The influence of platonism on mathematics research and theological beliefs

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An age-old debate in the philosophy of mathematics is whether mathematics is discovered or invented. There are four popular viewpoints in this debate, namely Platonism, formalism, intuitionism, and logicism. A natural question that arises is whether belief in one of these viewpoints affects the mathematician’s research? In particular, does subscribing to a Platonist or a formalist viewpoint influence how a mathematician conducts research? Does the area of research influence a mathematician’s beliefs on the nature of mathematics? How are the beliefs regarding the nature of mathematics connected to theological beliefs? In order to investigate these questions, five professional research mathematicians were interviewed. The mathematicians worked in diverse areas within analysis, algebra, and within applied mathematics, and had a combined 160 years of research experience. Although none of the mathematicians wanted to be pigeonholed into any one category of beliefs, the study revealed that four of the mathematicians leaned towards Platonism, which runs contrary to the popular notion that Platonism is an exception today. This study revealed that beliefs regarding the nature of mathematics influenced how mathematicians’ conducted research and were deeply connected to their theological beliefs. The findings are presented in the form of vignettes that give an insight into the mathematical and theological belief structures of the mathematicians.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-147
Number of pages17
JournalTheology and Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2004


  • Formalism
  • Mathematical foundations
  • Mathematics history
  • Mathematics philosophy
  • Platonism


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