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The Princeton Companion to Mathematics by Imre Leader, June Barrow-Green, Timothy Gowers

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VIII.2 “Why Mathematics?” You Might Ask

Michael Harris

It seems to me that they have a poor opinion of our religion if they think it needs the protection of philosophy.

Lorenzo Valla, Dialogue on Free Will

1 A Metaphysical Burden

ANDRÉ WEIL [VI.93], speaking at the 1978 International Congress of Mathematicians at Helsinki, concluded his address entitled “History of Mathematics: Why and How?” with these words:

Thus my original question “Why mathematical history?” finally reduces itself to the question “Why mathematics?,” which fortunately I do not feel called upon to answer.

Proceedings of the ICM, Helsinki, 1978 (pp. 227–36, quotation on p. 236)

I heard Weil’s address, and the applause that followed, and remember imagining circumstances in ...

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