Educational Studies in Mathematics

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 277-289

First online:

Generic examples: Seeing the general in the particular

  • John MasonAffiliated withCentre for Maths Education, The Open University
  • , David PimmAffiliated withCentre for Maths Education, The Open University

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This paper explores some of the ambiguities inherent in the notions of generality and genericity, drawing parallels between natural language and mathematics, and thereby obliquely attacking the entrenched view that mathematics is unambiguous. Alternative ways of construing 2N, for example, suggest approaches to some of the difficulties which students find with an algebraic representation of generality. Examples are given to show that confusion of levels is widespread throughout mathematics, but that the very confusion is a source of richness of meaning.