Social Constructivism as a Philosophy of Mathematics

By Paul Ernest

Subjects: Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Science, Technology, and Society, SUNY series, Reform in Mathematics Education
Paperback : 9780791435885, 315 pages, November 1997
Hardcover : 9780791435878, 315 pages, November 1997

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Table of contents

List of Tables and Figures



1. A Critique of Absolutism in the Philosophy of Mathematics

2. Reconceptualizing the Philosophy of Mathematics

3. Wittgenstein's Philosophy of Mathematics

4. Lakatos's Philosophy of Mathematics

5. The Social Construction of Objective Knowledge

6. Conversation and Rhetoric

7. The Social Construction of Subjective Knowledge

8. Social Constructivism: Evaluation and Values



Extends the ideas of social constructivism to the philosophy of mathematics, developing a powerful critique of traditional absolutist conceptions of mathematics, and proposing a reconceptualization of the philosophy of mathematics.


Proposing social constructivism as a novel philosophy of mathematics, this book is inspired by current work in sociology of knowledge and social studies of science. It extends the ideas of social constructivism to the philosophy of mathematics, developing a whole set of new notions. The outcome is a powerful critique of traditional absolutist conceptions of mathematics, as well as of the field of philosophy of mathematics itself. Proposed are a reconceptualization of the philosophy of mathematics and a new set of adequacy criteria.

The book offers novel analyses of the important but under-recognized contributions of Wittgenstein and Lakatos to the philosophy of mathematics. Building on their ideas, it develops a theory of mathematical knowledge and its relation to the social context. It offers an original theory of mathematical knowledge based on the concept of conversation, and develops the rhetoric of mathematics to account for proof in mathematics. Another novel feature is the account of the social construction of subjective knowledge, which relates the learning of mathematics to philosophy of mathematics via the development of the individual mathematician. It concludes by considering the values of mathematics and its social responsibility.

Paul Ernest is Reader in Mathematics Education, School of Education, University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. He is editor of Mathematics Teaching: The State of the Art; Mathematics, Education and Philosophy: An International Perspective; Constructing Mathematical Knowledge: Epistemology and Mathematics Education; and author of The Philosophy of Mathematics Education.


"The scholarship is extensive and deep and the conclusions are convincing. This book contains the best presentation I have read for the social constructivist position on the philosophy of mathematics. " -- Philip J. Davis, Brown University