What is Mathematics, Really?

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, 1999 - Mathematics - 343 pages
Virtually all philosophers treat mathematics as isolated, timeless, ahistorical, inhuman. In What Is Mathematics, Really? renowned mathematician Reuben Hersh argues the contrary. In a subversive attack on traditional philosophies of mathematics, most notably Platonism and formalism, he shows that mathematics must be understood as a human activity, a social phenomenon, part of human culture, historically evolved, and intelligible only in a social context. Mathematical objects are created by humans, not arbitrarily, but from activity with existing mathematical objects, and from the needs of science and daily life. Hersh pulls the screen back to reveal mathematics as seen by professionals, debunking many mathematical myths, and demonstrating how the "humanist" idea of the nature of mathematics more closely resembles how mathematicians actually work. The humanist standpoint helps him to resolve ancient controversies about proof, certainty, and invention versus discovery. The second half of the book provides a fascinating history of the "mainstream" of philosophy - ranging from Pythagoras, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, and Kant, to Bertrand Russell, Hilbert, Carnap, and Quine. Then come the mavericks who saw mathematics as a human artifact - Aristotle, Locke, Hume, Mill, Peirce, Dewey, Wittgenstein. In his epilogue, Hersh reveals that this is no mere armchair debate, of little consequence to the outside world. Platonism and elitism fit together naturally. Humanism, on the other hand, links mathematics with people, with society, and with history. It fits with liberal anti-elitism and its historical striving for universal literacy, universal higher education, and universal access to knowledge and culture. Thus Hersh's argument has educational and political consequences.

What people are saying - Write a review

What is mathematics, Really?

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Hersh, mathematician and coauthor of The Mathematical Experience (1983), attempts to answer here the philosophical question, "What is mathematics?" Many practitioners think of themselves as ... Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Hi it me Anam Zahid Rashid khan mathematics is a great subject that connect us the opportunity of working with technology changing that y I became a scientific research women


Criteria for a Philosophy of Mathematics
Five Classical Puzzles
Mainstream Philosophy at Its Peak
Mainstream Since the Crisis
Foundationism DiesMainstream Lives
Humanists and Mavericks of Old
Modern Humanists and Mavericks
Contemporary Humanists and Mavericks
Summary and Recapitulation
Mathematical NotesComments
Mathematical issues from chapters 113 A simple account of square

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (1999)

Reuben Hersh taught at several distinguished colleges and universities around the country. Now retired, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Bibliographic information