Justified Epistemic Exclusions in Mathematics

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Who gets to contribute to knowledge production of an epistemic community? Scholarship has focussed on unjustified forms of exclusion. Here I study justified forms of exclusion by investigating the phenomenon of so-called ‘cranks’ in mathematics. I argue that workload-management concerns justify the exclusion of these outsiders from mathematical knowledge-making practices. My discussion reveals three insights. There are reasons other than incorrect mathematical argument that justify exclusions from mathematical practices. There are instances in which mathematicians are justified in rejecting even correct mathematical arguments. Finally, the way mathematicians spot mathematical crankery does not support the pejorative connotations of the ‘crank’ terminology.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbernkad008
Pages (from-to)330-359
Number of pages30
JournalPhilosophia Mathematica
Issue number3
Early online date18 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Recall Hersh: ‘From the point of view of these guys [the outsiders], we [the mathematicians] are arrogant, unwilling to reconsider ideas. And why shouldn’t they expect a responsible scientist to look carefully at some new idea that might be important?’ (quoted in []). Research mathematicians are often (partially) funded by public funds. Do members of this public then not have a right to have their mathematical works be engaged with by these mathematicians? There is a question here what we consider ‘research’ to be. The common conception seems to be that research is supposed to expand the body of knowledge. This is reflected in science communication, i.e., in the practice of communicating scientific results to the general public. Communicated are results produced by scientists, but not (generally) results produced by members of the general public. I have argued that there is some justification for this: workload needs to be managed. But whether this is just or not depends in no small part on what we consider the job of a publicly funded scientist to be.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author [2023]. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.


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