Formal Methods and the Sociology of Proof

  • Donald MacKenzie
Conference paper
Part of the Workshops in Computing book series (WORKSHOPS COMP.)


This paper begins by asking whether a sociology of mathematical knowledge is possible. Having answered in the affirmative (drawing examples from the history of mathematics), it goes on to discuss the development of a similar analysis of the mathematical aspects of computer science. A brief vignette is presented: the processes of negotiation of the IEEE floating-point arithmetic specifications. Then the discussion moves on to the verification of software and hardware. If the sociology of mathematics is correct, then formal proofs can be seen as social, not just in the processes of their acceptance, as de Millo, Lipton and Perlis [DLP79) have argued, but also in their internal structure. Placed in the context of pressure for formal verification of safety-critical and security-critical systems, this argument led the author and colleagues to the prediction, three years ago, that litigation involving the nature of mathematical proof was bound to occur. That prediction has now been borne out.


Formal Method Formal Proof Mathematical Proof Computer Arithmetic Informal Proof 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald MacKenzie
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of SociologyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghScotland

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