Towards an Ethics of Mathematical Application

  • Felix Lensing
  • Hauke Straehler-Pohl
Part of the ICME-13 Monographs book series (ICME13Mo)


In the light of growing public attention to the influence of algorithms on our lives, this chapter addresses the question of how an ethical perspective on mathematical application could be conceptualised in contemporary late-modern societies. Firstly, we recapitulate some of the recent theoretical developments on the ethics of mathematical application in the field of mathematics education (Skovsmose in Mathematics education in a knowledge market: developing functional and critical competencies. Opening the research text: insights and in(ter)ventions into mathematics education. Springer, New York, pp. 159–188, 2008; de Freitas in Int Electr J Math Educ 3(2):79–95, 2008). Secondly, based on the work of the sociologist Luhmann (Thesis Eleven 29(1):82–94, 1991), we develop theoretical outlines of an ethics of mathematical application as a reflexive theory of moral communication on mathematical application. We then move into the sphere of the social and confront these theoretical considerations with a critique of the ideology of “solutionism”. Solutionism refers to a semantics that links the mathematisation of the social to ‘the morally good’. This critique leads us to suggest firstly, developing an ideology critique of the underlying semantics as a desideratum; and secondly, a systematic further development of an ethics of mathematical application that could inform moral communication on mathematical application in (critical) mathematics education.


Mathematical application Ethics Mathematization of social process Critical mathematics education 


  1. Brown, T. (forthcoming). Concepts and commodities in mathematical learning. In A. Coles, E. de Freitas, & N. Sinclair (Eds.) What is a mathematical concept? Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Espeland, W. N., & Stevens, M. L. (2008). A sociology of quantification. European Journal of Sociology, 49(03), 401–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ernest, P. (2001). Critical mathematics education. In P. Gates (Ed.), Issues in mathematics teaching. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. De Freitas, L. (2008). Critical mathematics education: Recognizing the ethical dimension of problem solving. International Electronic Journal of Mathematics Education, 3(2), 79–95.Google Scholar
  5. Gödel, K. (1931). Über formal unentscheidbare Sätze der Principia Mathematica und verwandter Systeme I. Monatshefte für Mathematik und Physik, 38(1), 173–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Han, B.-C. (2014). Im Schwarm. Ansichten des Digitalen. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz.Google Scholar
  7. Han, B.-C. (2017). In the swarm: Digital prospects. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  8. Hersh, R. (1990). Mathematics and ethics. Humanistic Mathematics Network Journal, 1(5), 9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Habermas, J. (1973). Theory and practice. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  10. Lakatos, I. (1976). Proofs and refutations: The logic of mathematical discovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Luhmann, N. (1991). Paradigm lost: On the ethical reflection of morality. Thesis Eleven, 29(1), 82–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lundin, S. (2012). Hating school, loving mathematics: On the ideological function of critique and reform in mathematics education. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 80(2), 73–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lundin, S., & Storck Christensen, D. (2017). Mathematics education as praying wheel: How adults avoid mathematics by pushing it onto children. In H. Straehler-Pohl, N. Bohlmann, & A. Pais (Eds.), The disorder of mathematics education. Challenging the socio-political dimensions of research (pp. 19–34). Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  14. Morozov, E. (2013a). Smarte neue Welt. Digitale Technik und die Freiheit des Menschen. München: Karl Blessing.Google Scholar
  15. Morozov, E. (2013b). To save everything, click here: The folly of technological solutionism. Public Affairs.Google Scholar
  16. Pais, A. (2017). The narcissism of mathematics education. In H. Straehler-Pohl, N. Bohlmann & A. Pais (Eds.), The disorder of mathematics education. Challenging the socio-political dimensions of research (pp. 53–63). Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  17. Pais, A., Fernandes, E., Matos, J. F., & Alves, A. S. (2012). Recovering the meaning of “critique” in critical mathematics education. For the Learning of Mathematics, 32(1), 28–33.Google Scholar
  18. Skovsmose, O. (1994). Towards a philosophy of critical mathematics education. Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Skovsmose, O. (2008). Mathematics education in a knowledge market: Developing functional and critical competencies. In E. de Freitas & K. Nolan (Eds.), Opening the research text: Insights and in(ter)ventions into mathematics education (pp. 159–188). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Skovsmose, O., & Borba, M. (2004). Research methodology and critical mathematics education. In P. Valero & R. Zevenbergen (Eds.), Researching the socio-political dimensions of mathematics education: Issues of power in theory and methodology (pp. 207–226). New York: Springer Publisher.Google Scholar
  21. Straehler-Pohl, H. (2017). De|mathematisation and ideology in times of capitalism. Recovering critical distance. In H. Straehler-Pohl, N. Bohlmann, & A. Pais (Eds.), The disorder of mathematics education. Challenging the socio-political dimensions of research (pp. 35–52). Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  22. Tugendhat, E. (1984). Probleme der Ethik. Stuttgart: Reclam.Google Scholar
  23. Žižek, S. (1989). The sublime object of ideology. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  24. Žižek, S. (2000). The ticklish subject: The absent centre of political ontology. London: Verso.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Freie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations