The relationships between mathematics, mathematics education and issues such as social justice and equity have been addressed by the sociopolitical tradition in mathematics education. Others have introduced explicit discussion of ethics, advocating for its centrality. However, this is an area that is still under developed. There is a need for an ethics of mathematics education that can inform moment to moment choices to address a wide range of ethical situations. I argue that mathematics educators make ethical choices which are necessarily ambiguous and complex. This is illustrated with examples from practice. The concept of ethical dimension is introduced as a heuristic to consider the awareness of different forms of relationship and arenas of action. A framework is proposed and discussed of four important dimensions: the relationship with others, the societal and cultural, the ecological and the relationship with self. Attending to the different ethical dimensions supports the development of a plural relational ethics. Navigating ethical complexity requires embracing diverse and changing commitments. An ethics that takes account of these different dimensions supports an ethical praxis that is based on principles of flexibility and a dialogical relationship to the world and practice.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Alrø, H., Ravn, O., & Valero, P. (2010). Critical mathematics education: past, present and future. Festschrift for Ole Skovsmose. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Anton, C. (2001). Beyond theoretical ethics: Bakhtinian anti-theoreticism. Human Studies, 24, 211–225.
Atweh, B. (2013). Is the good a desire or an obligation? The possibility of ethics for mathematics education. Philosophy of Mathematics Education Journal, 27. Retrieved from http://people.exeter.ac.uk/PErnest/pome27/index.html.
Atweh, B. (2014). Mathematics education and democratic participation between the critical and the ethical: a socially response-able approach. In O. Skovsmose & B. Greer (Eds.), Opening the cage: critique and politics of mathematics education (pp. 325–342). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Atweh, B., & Brady, K. (2009). Socially response-able mathematics education: implications of an ethical approach. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics Science and Technology Education, 5(3), 267–276.
Bakhtin, M. (1981). M.M. Bakhtin the dialogic imagination: Four essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Bakhtin, M. (1984). Problems of Dostoevsky’s poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Bakhtin, M. (1993). Towards a philosophy of the act. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Barwell, R. (2013). The mathematical formatting of climate change: Critical mathematics education and post-normal science. Research in Mathematics Education, 15(1), 1–16.
Bauman, Z. (1993). Postmodern ethics. Oxford: Blackwell.
Benhabib, S. (1992). Situating the self: Gender, community, postmodernism in contemporary ethics. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Boaler, J. (2005). The ‘psychological prisons’ from which they never escaped: the role of ability grouping in reproducing social class inequalities. Forum, 47(2&3), 125–134.
Boylan, M. (2009). Engaging with issues of emotionality in mathematics teacher education for social justice. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 12(6), 427–443.
Boylan, M., & Povey, H. (2009). Telling stories about mathematics. In L. Black, H. Mendick, & Y. Solomon (Eds.), Mathematical relationships: Identities and participation (pp. 45–57). London: Routledge.
Brown, T., & England, J. (2004). British Journal of Sociology of Education, 25(1), 67–79.
Brown, T., & McNamara, O. (2011). New Teacher identity and regulative government: The discursive formation of primary mathematics teacher education. New York: Springer.
D’Ambrosio, U. (2010). Mathematics education and survival with dignity. In H. Alrø, O. Ravn, & P. Valero (Eds.), Critical mathematics education: past, present and future (pp. 51–63). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Davy, B. J. (2007). Another face of ethics in Levinas. Ethics and the environment, 12(1), 39–65.
Derrida, J. (1992). The other heading: reflections on today’s Europe (P. Brault & M. Naas, Trans.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Erdinast-Vulcan, D. (2008). Between the face and the voice: Bakhtin meets Levinas. Continental Philosophy Review, 41, 43–58.
Ernest, P. (2013). What is ‘first philosophy’ in mathematics education? The Philosophy of Mathematics Education Journal, 27. Retreived from http://people.exeter.ac.uk/PErnest/pome27/index.html.
Foucault, M. (1988). Madness and civilization. New York: Vintage.
Foucault, M. (1994a). The ethics of the concern for self as a practice of freedom. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), Michel Foucault: Ethics—subjectivity and truth (pp. 281–302). London: Allen Lane.
Foucault, M. (1994b). What is enlightenment? In P. Rabinow (Ed.), Michel Foucault: Ethics—subjectivity and truth (pp. 303–320). London: Allen Lane.
Fraser, N. (1997). Justice interruptus: Critical reflections on the “postsocialist” condition. New York: Routledge.
Fraser, N. (2008). Scales of justice, reimagining political space in a globalizing world. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Fraser, N., & Honneth, A. (2003). Redistribution or recognition?: A political-philosophical exchange. New York: Verso.
Gerdes, P. (1996). Ethnomathematics and mathematics education. In A. J. Bishop, M. K. Clements, C. Keitel, J. Kilpatrick, & C. Laborde (Eds.), International Handbook of Mathematics Education (pp. 909–943). Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Glass, R. (2001). On Paulo Freire’s philosophy of praxis and the foundations of liberation education. Educational Researcher, 30(2), 15–25.
Griffiths, M. (2003). Action for social justice in education. Maidenhead: OUP.
Gutiérrez, R. (2008). A “gap-gazing” fetish in Mathematics Education? Problematizing research on the achievement gap. Journal of Research in Mathematics Education, 39(4), 357–364.
Gutiérrez, R. (2013). The sociopolitical turn in mathematics education. Journal of Research in Mathematics Education, 44(1), 37.
Gutstein, E. (2006). Reading and writing the world with mathematics. New York: Routledge.
Habermas, J. (1990). Moral consciousness and communicative action. Cambridge: Polity.
Hand, V. (2012). Seeing culture and power in mathematical learning: Toward a model of equitable instruction. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 80, 233–247.
Infinito, J. (2003). Ethical self-formation: A look at the later Foucault. Educational Theory, 53(2), 155–171.
Jardine, D. (1994). On the ecologies of mathematical language and the rhythms of the earth. In P. Ernest (Ed.), Mathematics, education and philosophy: An international perspective (pp. 109–123). London: Falmer.
Jardine, D. (2012). Pedagogy left in peace: Cultivating free spaces in teaching and learning. London: Continuum.
Kemmis, S. (2010). Research for praxis: Knowing doing. Pedagogy Culture and Society, 18(1), 9–27.
Kemmis, S., & Smith, T. (2008). Enabling praxis: Challenges for education. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Levinas, E. (1982). Ethics and infinity: Conversations with Phillipe Nemo. Pittsburgh: Duquansne University Press.
Levinas, E. (1998). Otherwise than being: Or beyond essence. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.
Mendick, H. (2006). Masculinities in mathematics. Buckingham: Oxford University Press.
Neyland, J. (2004). Toward a postmodern ethics of mathematics education. In M. Walshaw (Ed.), Mathematics education within the postmodern (pp. 55–73). Greenwich: Information Age Publishing.
North, C. (2006). More than words? Delving into the substantive meaning(s) of “social justice” in education. Review of Educational Research, 76(4), 507–535.
North, C. (2008). What’s all this talk about “Social Justice”? Mapping the terrain of education’s latest catch phrase. Teachers College Record, 110(6), 1182–1206.
Powell, A., & Frankenstein, M. (Eds.). (1997). Ethnomathematics: Challenging Eurocentrism in Mathematics Education. New York: SUNY.
Puka, B. (2005). Teaching ethical excellence: Artful response-ability, creative integrity, character opus. Liberal Education, 91(3/4), 22–25.
Reay, D., & Williams, D. (1999). I’ll be a nothings: Structure, agency and the construction of identity through assessment. British Educational Research Journal, 25(3), 343–354.
Rolston, H. (2007). The future of environmental ethics. Teaching Ethics, 1, 1–27.
Roth, W.-M. (2013). Toward a post-constructivist ethics in/of teaching and learning. Pedagogies An International Journal, 8(2), 103–125.
Shan, S., & Bailey, P. (1991). Multiple factors: Classroom mathematics for equality and justice. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.
Shildrick, M. (1997). Leaky bodies and boundaries: Feminism, postmodernism and (bio)ethics. London: Routledge.
Sidorkin, A. (2002). Lyotard and Bakhtin: Engaged diversity in education. Interchange, 33(1), 85–97.
Skovsmose, O. (1994). Towards a philosophy of critical mathematics education. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Spinoza, B. (2000). Spinoza: ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Standish, P. (2008). Levinas and language of the curriculum. In D. Egéa-Kuehne (Ed.), Levinas and education: at the intersection of faith and reason (pp. 56–66). New York: Routlege.
Strhan, A. (2012). Levinas, subjectivity, education: Towards an ethics of radical responsibility. Chichester: Willey-Blackwell.
Sullivan, S. (2009). Green capitalism, and the cultural poverty of constructing nature as service-provider. Radical Anthropology, 3, 18–27.
Sullivan, S. (2010). ‘Ecosystem service commodities’—a new imperial ecology? Implications for animist immanent ecologies, with Deleuze and Guattari. New Formations a Journal of Culture/Theory/Politics, 69, 111–128.
Walshaw, M. (2004). The pedagogical relation in postmodern times. In M. Walshaw (Ed.), Mathematics education within the postmodern (pp. 121–139). Greenwich: Information Age Publishing.
Walshaw, M. (2013). Poststructuralism and ethical practical action: Issues of identity and power. Journal of Research in Mathematics Education, 44(1), 100–118.
Walshaw, M., & Brown, T. (2012). Affective productions of mathematical experience. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 80, 185–199.
Zembylas, M. (2007). A politics of passion in education: The Foucauldian legacy. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 39(2), 135–149.
The author would like to thank Paul Ernest, Bill Atweh and anonymous reviewers of this and earlier versions of the paper.
About this article
Cite this article
Boylan, M. Ethical dimensions of mathematics education. Educ Stud Math 92, 395–409 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10649-015-9678-z
- Mathematics education
- Ethical dimension