Vol. 19 No. 2 (2010)

Why Not Philosophy? Problematizing the Philosophy of Mathematics in a Time of Curriculum Reform

Published 2015-05-01


This article argues that, as teachers struggle to implement curriculum reform in mathematics, an explicit discussion of philosophy of mathematics is missing from the conversation. Building on the work of Ernest (1988, 1991, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2004), Lerman (1990, 1998, 1999), the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1989, 1991, 2000), Davis and Hersh (1981), Hersh (1997), Lakatos (1945/1976), Kitcher (1984), and others, the author draws parallels between social constructivism and a humanism philosophy of mathematics. While practicing mathematicians may be entrenched in a traditional, Platonic philosophy of mathematics, and mathematics education researchers have embraced the fallibilist, humanist philosophy of mathematics (Sfard, 1998), the teachers of school mathematics are caught somewhere in the middle. Mathematics teachers too often hold true to the traditional view of mathematics as an absolute truth independent of human subjectivity. At the same time, they are pushed to teach mathematics as a social construction, an activity that makes sense only through its usefulness. Given these dichotomous views of mathematics, without an explicit conversation about and exploration of the philosophy of mathematics, reform in the teaching and learning of mathematics may be certain to fail.