Ethics in Mathematics at Vassar


Slides from this colloquium talk are now available online.


1 thought on “Ethics in Mathematics at Vassar

  1. Zack Yezek

    Why was there so much inherent hostility to capitalism and the military in a supposed ethics debate?

    Mathematics is just a tool, a powerful and ethereal tool for structured thought rather than a physical device, but a tool nonetheless. The fundamental problem ethics seminars & debates like these have is that participants won’t overtly commit to a clear moral foundation, a concrete delineation of what the group deems good vs. evil. Mathematicians of all people should be aware of just how pointless and unreliable an argument based on excessively vague definitions and unclear reasoning is, but that’s exactly what was presented here. There was more than a little insinuation that ‘the military’ & capitalism are somehow morally suspect, but if that’s your premise then be prepared for the ultimate consequences of ‘ethics drives’ and declarations based upon it to be the introduction of partisan politics into mathematics research. Because there is by no means widespread agreement in the wider society that military force or free markets are ‘bad’ things.

    Frankly, I don’t see why math research should be done with an eye to not ‘undermining democracy’. Formal mathematics existed for millennia before Western democracy & it’ll still be around long after humanity’s moved on to another political system. Imagine Renaissance mathematicians had adopted this proposed ‘ethics’ attitude 800 years ago, and decided that adopting ‘Arabic’ numerals would un-ethically undermine the feudal monarchies of that era. It sounds stupid- because it is- but its the same basic concept that’s being floated here.



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