Monday, August 17, 2009

Article: Mathematical history, philosophy and education

Michael Otte: Mathematical history, philosophy and education, Educational studies in mathematics (2007) 66: 243-255.

Combining history and philosophy of mathematics, this is not an easy read, and I will not claim to have grasped even the main points in the first reading.

It does start out with describing a point of view (which the author of this article does not share): "Within this context, it is frequently claimed, by mathematicians in particular, that mathematics has no history worth knowing. The newest state of the art of mathematics has taken up and reformulated in modern terms whatever appeared as worthwhile during its history."

By looking at some topics from the history of mathematics, he ends up in this conclusion: "Mathematical ideas that appear extremely abstract and difficult at first sight become understandable from a historical perspective only. The transformation of processes into structures with which we have dealt here is quite instructive in this respect. History of mathematics occupies itself describing processes of growth and development, whereas philosophy of mathematics is concerned with questions of justification. Both play an essential role within the educational context."

On the way from the beginning to the conclusion, the author looks at the view of numbers throughout history as well as the theory of integration from Cauchy to Lebesgue. The second of these was particularly interesting to me. Topology was one of my favorite courses in university, and it is interesting to see the development of topology from this perspective.

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