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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: August 2014



I Propose to put forward an apology for mathematics; and I may be told that it needs none, since there are now few studies more generally recognized, for good reasons or bad, as profitable and praiseworthy. This may be true; indeed it is probable, since the sensational triumphs of Einstein, that stellar astronomy and atomic physics are the only sciences which stand higher in popular estimation. A mathematician need not now consider himself on the defensive. He does not have to meet the sort of opposition described by Bradley in the admirable defence of metaphysics which forms the introduction to Appearance and Reality.

A metaphysician, says Bradley, will be told that ‘metaphysical knowledge is wholly impossible’, or that ‘even if possible to a certain degree, it is practically no knowledge worth the name’. ‘The same problems,’ he will hear, ‘the same disputes, the same sheer failure. Why not abandon it and come out? Is there nothing else more worth your labour?’ There is no one so stupid as to use this sort of language about mathematics. The mass of mathematical truth is obvious and imposing; its practical applications, the bridges and steam-engines and dynamos, obtrude themselves on the dullest imagination.