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ERIC Number: ED502336
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2004-Jan-9
Pages: 21
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 30
On the Nature of Mathematical Thought and Inquiry: A Prelusive Suggestion
McLoughlin, M. Padraig M. M.
Online Submission, Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Mathematical Association of America (Phoenix, AZ, Jan 9, 2004)
The author of this paper submits that humans have a natural inquisitiveness; hence, mathematicians (as well as other humans) must be active in learning. Thus, we must commit to conjecture and prove or disprove said conjecture. Ergo, the purpose of the paper is to submit the thesis that learning requires doing; only through inquiry is learning achieved, and hence this paper proposes an archetype of mathematical thought such that the experience of doing a mathematical argument is the reason for the exercise along with the finished product; and, that the nature of mathematical thought is one that can be characterised as thought through inquiry that relies on inquiry though constructive scepticism. To opine mathematical thought is rooted in a disconnected incidental schema where no deductive conclusion exists or can be gleaned is to condemn the field to a chaotic tousle; whereas, to opine that it is firmly entrenched in a constricted schema which is stagnant, simple, and compleat is to deny its dynamic nature. So, mathematical thought must be focused on the process of deriving a proof, constructing an adequate model of some physical or latent occurrence, or providing connection between and betwixt the two. The two aforementioned ideas, the theoretical and practical are further convoluted by the seemingly axiological contrarians of experiential process and final product. The experiential process and final product cannot be disconnected. Thus, to paraphrase John Dewey, the ends and the means are the same. The paper is organised in the following manner. In the first part of the paper the author gives a synopsis of the major philosophical influences of the thesis: Idealism, Realism, and Pragmatism. In the second part the author argues that the four basic ideas of mathematical thought, Platonism, Logicism, Formalism, and Intuitionism, all share the aspects of "constructive scepticism" which forms the core of the author's argument regarding the nature of mathematical thought. In the third part of the paper the author submits that the single most important feature of mathematics that distinguishes it from other sciences is "positive scepticism." What binds and supports mathematics is a search for truth, a search for what works, and a search for what is applicable within the constraints of the demand for justification. It is not the ends, but the means which matter the most--the process at deriving an answer, the progression to the application, and the method of generalisation. These procedures demand more than mere speculative ideas; they demand reasoned and sanguine justification. Furthermore, "positive scepticism" (or the principle of "epoikodomitikos skeptikistisis") is meant to mean demanding objectivity; viewing a topic with a healthy dose of doubt; remaining open to being wrong; and, not arguing from an a priori perception. Hence, the nature of the process of the inquiry that justification must be supplied, analysed, and critiqued is the essence of the nature of mathematical enterprise: knowledge and inquiry are inseparable and as such must be actively pursued, refined, and engaged. Finally, the author argues that not only is constructive scepticism an epistemological position as to the nature of mathematics, but it is also an axiological position for it is a value-judgement that inquiry into the nature of mathematics is positive. So, this paper proposes a philosophical position that deviates from both a disconnected incidental schema (usually termed phenomenological, hermeneutical, or constructivistic schema) and a constricted schema (usually termed traditionalistic schema). We should acknowledge that conditional truth can be deduced, recognise the pragmatic need for models and approximation, and the author suggests that such is based on the experience of doing rather than witnessing. (Contains 5 footnotes.)
Publication Type: Opinion Papers; Reports - Evaluative; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A