Virtue theory of mathematical practices: an introduction

Synthese 199 (3-4):10167-10180 (2021)
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Until recently, discussion of virtues in the philosophy of mathematics has been fleeting and fragmentary at best. But in the last few years this has begun to change. As virtue theory has grown ever more influential, not just in ethics where virtues may seem most at home, but particularly in epistemology and the philosophy of science, some philosophers have sought to push virtues out into unexpected areas, including mathematics and its philosophy. But there are some mathematicians already there, ready to meet them, who have explicitly invoked virtues in discussing what is necessary for a mathematician to succeed. In both ethics and epistemology, virtue theory tends to emphasize character virtues, the acquired excellences of people. But people are not the only sort of thing whose excellences may be identified as virtues. Theoretical virtues have attracted attention in the philosophy of science as components of an account of theory choice. Within the philosophy of mathematics, and mathematics itself, attention to virtues has emerged from a variety of disparate sources. Theoretical virtues have been put forward both to analyse the practice of proof and to justify axioms; intellectual virtues have found multiple applications in the epistemology of mathematics; and ethical virtues have been offered as a basis for understanding the social utility of mathematical practice. Indeed, some authors have advocated virtue epistemology as the correct epistemology for mathematics (and perhaps even as the basis for progress in the metaphysics of mathematics). This topical collection brings together several of the researchers who have begun to study mathematical practices from a virtue perspective with the intention of consolidating and encouraging this trend.

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