Observations on Sick Mathematics

In Bart van Kerkhove, Jean Paul van Bendegem & Jonas de Vuyst (eds.), Philosophical Perspectives on Mathematical Practice. College Publications. pp. 269--300 (2010)
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This paper argues that new light may be shed on mathematical reasoning in its non-pathological forms by careful observation of its pathologies. The first section explores the application to mathematics of recent work on fallacy theory, specifically the concept of an ‘argumentation scheme’: a characteristic pattern under which many similar inferential steps may be subsumed. Fallacies may then be understood as argumentation schemes used inappropriately. The next section demonstrates how some specific mathematical fallacies may be characterized in terms of argumentation schemes. The third section considers the phenomenon of correct answers which result from incorrect methods. This turns out to pose some deep questions concerning the nature of mathematical knowledge. In particular, it is argued that a satisfactory epistemology for mathematical practice must address the role of luck.

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Andrew Aberdein
Florida Institute of Technology


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