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Philosophical Wonder and “Math Anxiety”

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The true humility, the sort of wonder which we wish to induce as philosophers, can only be achieved when one has achieved a certain degree of well-founded confidence in one’s ability to understand and assess claims. Many claims of interest are about or couched in logical or mathematical terms, and our tools are especially well suited to helping people recognise paradox and perplexity; formal philosophy hence has an important role to play in a philosophical education. That is commentary from Liam Kofi Bright (London School of Economics) in the wake of a conference on formal methods in philosophy (previously). Hamid Naderi Yeganeh, “Butterfly with Trigonometric Functions” One subject of concern among the conference attendees was “math anxiety”: the habit of our humanities students to think that symbolic reasoning is somehow intrinsically difficult and beyond their powers, and to feel especial fear and shame at the prospect of being seen not to be good at it, and thus displaying some hesitancy or avoidance about engaging with formal courses.  While there are philosophical pedagogical benefits of “making students experience difficulty, limitation, the inevitability of failure”, there is a difference between limited by “personal failings,” on the one hand, and being limited by “real difficulty in the world,” on the other. On Bright’s take, if we help students overcome the former they are in a better position to properly appreciate the latter: Philosophy begins in wonder, and teaches humility, but it is not the humility of someone with low self-regard, or wonder at how one can be such a wretch. We wish to put students in a place where they leave their degree realising that there is much to doubt about confident pronouncements made on behalf of what a Reasonable Person would do or what Rationally We Surely Must Believe. To do that in the way we intend, they must be able to recognise the puzzlement that. . .

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News source: Daily Nous

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