At What Point Do Poythress' Concerns Matter?


Andrew’s post and the Vern Poythress article from which it derives were both quite interesting. That’s remarkable for someone like me to say as I have no interest (or competence) in mathematics. What I wonder about is, on a practical level, do these philosophical differences really impact on elementary and secondary level math education? I mean it seems that most societies seem to have worked out some kind of reasonable mathematical system. For evidence, I’d give you the fact that many different cultures seem to have developed fairly complex architecture and taxation systems. Things like zero, negative numbers, and algebra have all come from non-Christian cultures. A great deal also came from the pre-Christian Greeks. Regardless of what a culture’s philosophy or religion teach, it’s infrastructure would collapse without some kind of agreement on the most basic tenets of mathematics, wouldn’t it?

If I was doing math at a graduate or post-graduate level, Poythress’ observations would deserve a great deal of consideration when it came to selecting courses and thesis advisers. But if I’m talking about the most elementary mathematics I wonder how much these things really, really matter.