FOM: Hersh's Book

Reuben Hersh rhersh at
Tue Dec 30 10:32:22 EST 1997

On Mon, 29 Dec 1997, Stephen Cook wrote:

> In outlining his book Reuben Hersh (Dec 22) makes the case that mathematics
> is a "social-cultural-historic" reality.  Who would disagree?  But so
> are all academic disciplines.  It seems to me that a more important question
> which should be addressed by a book on the nature of mathematics is: 
> What is it that distinguished mathematics from other academic disciplines?
> Stephen Cook

A good question!

Roughly speaking, academic disciplines can mostly be divided into

sciences and humanities.  Like, physics, chemistry, biology, geology,

are called sciences.  History, literature, philosophy are called 

humanities. You can put fine arts with humanities.  Some 

disciplines--psychology, anthropology, e.g.--are in dispute between 

calling themselves one or the other.

The humanities study the works of man(woman).

The sciences claim to or try to attain reproducible results--strong


Math, by this analysis, is distinguished by studying the works of

man(woman)--namely, mathematical concepts and objects, so it is one

of the humanities--and also, at the same time, attaining reproducible

results--very strong consensus--so it is also a science.

This is my rough, basic characterization of math among academic disciplines.

Scientific in its results, humanistic in its content.

If one goes into details (applied math, computing, fom) there will

be refinements and more exact description.> 

Reuben Hersh

More information about the FOM mailing list