- Paperback: 188 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1st edition (January 1, 1976)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521290384
- ISBN-13: 978-0521290388
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #656,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery 1st Edition
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'For anyone interested in mathematics who has not encountered the work of the late Imre Lakatos before, this book is a treasure; and those who know well the famous dialogue, first published in 1963-64 in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, that forms the greater part of this book, will be eager to read the supplementary material ... the book, as it stands, is rich and stimulating, and, unlike most writings on the philosophy of mathematics, succeeds in making excellent use of detailed observations about mathematics as it is actually practised.' Michael Dummett, Nature
'The whole book, as well as being a delightful read, is of immense value to anyone concerned with mathematical education at any level.' C. W. Kilmister, The Times Higher Education Supplement
'In this book the late Imre Lakatos explores 'the logic of discovery' and 'the logic of justification' as applied to mathematics ... The arguments presented are deep ... but the author's lucid literary style greatly facilitates their comprehension ... The book is destined to become a classic. It should be read by all those who would understand more about the nature of mathematics, of how it is created and how it might best be taught.' Education
A novel introduction to the philosophy of mathematics, mostly in the form of a discussion between a group of students and their teacher. It combats the positivist picture and develops a much richer, more dramatic progression.
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In "Proofs and Refutations," Lakatos illustrates how a single mathematical theorem developed from a naive conjecture to its present (far more sophisticated) form through a gruelling process of criticism by counterexamples and subsequent improvements. Lakatos manages to seemlessly narrate over a century of mathematical work by adopting a quasi-Platonic dialogue form (inspired by Galileo's "Dialogues"?), which he thoroughly backs up with hard historical evidence in the voluminous footnotes. The story he tells explores the clumsy and halting heuristic processes by which mathematical knowledge is created: the very process so carfully hidden from view in most mathematics textbooks!
The participants of Lakatos' dialogue argue over questions like "when is something proved?", "what is a trivial vs. severe counterexample?", "must you state all your assumptions or can some be thought of as implicit?", "in the end, what has been proved?",etc.. The answers to these questions change as the theorem under consideration is successively seen in a new light. Throughout, Lakatos is at pains to point out that the different perspectives adopted by his characters are representative of viewpoints that were once taken by the heroes of mathematics.
However, for those readers (including beginning mathematicians) who are interested in the broader picture, who are interested in the nature of mathematical proof, then Lakatos is essential reading. The examples chosen are vivid, and there is a rich sense of historical context. The dramatised setting (with Teacher and students Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc) is handled skilfully. Now and then, a foolish-seeming comment from one of the students has a footnote tagged to it; more often than not, that student is standing in for Euler, Cauchy, Poincare or some other great mathematician from a past era, closely paraphrasing actual remarks made by them. That in some ways is the most important lesson I learned from this book; "obvious" now doesn't mean obvious then, even to the greatest intellects of the time.
Although "Proofs and Refuatations" is an easy book to begin reading, it is not an easy book per se. I have returned to it repeatedly over the last ten years, and I always learn something new. The text matures with the reader.
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(a) "Under the present dominance of formalism, ...Read more