Beyond the Neutrality of Mathematics

  • Ole Ravn
  • Ole Skovsmose
Part of the History of Mathematics Education book series (HME)


This chapter considers reasons for abandoning the thesis of neutrality, which assumes that mathematics does not incorporate any value judgements. The chapter considers to what extent mathematics forms part of technological and political actions by establishing new forms of actions as well as by providing justifications for actions. Like any form of action, also mathematics-based actions are not neutral. They are expressions of particular interests as well as of political or economic priorities.

The different formats of mathematics-based actions become illustrated. One format is the fabrication of fictions, which refers to the possibility that mathematics can be used in identifying new technological alternatives. Fabrication of facts refers to the possibility that implementation of algorithmic procedures create new structures, for instance with respect to production and control. Fabrications of risks refer to the possibility that when mathematics comes to make part of automatics procedures, for instance in form of automatics piloting, new forms of accidents turn possible. Finally, it becomes pointed out that mathematics provides illusions of objectivity. All such mathematics-based fabrications become part of our reality. The fabrications of fictions, facts, risks and illusions do not take place in an ethical vacuum. They merge with a number of other forms of actions, making ethical neutrality in mathematics impossible. The chapter is concluded by an example referring to Google’s search engine, which is a powerful mathematical way of structuring knowledge.


Google’s search engine Mathematical modelling Mathematics as action Mathematics-based fabrication of facts Mathematics-based fabrication of fictions Mathematics-based fabrications of risks Mathematics-based illusions of objectivity Power 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ole Ravn
    • 1
  • Ole Skovsmose
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Learning and PhilosophyAalborg UniversityAalborgDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Mathematics EducationState University of São Paulo, (Universidade Estadual Paulista, Unesp)São PauloBrazil

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