British academy

Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 103

Mathematics and Necessity

Essays in the History of Philosophy

edited by Timothy Smiley

Published 2000
for the British Academy by Oxford University Press

234 × 156 mm; 176 pages
hardback, ISBN 0-19-726215-5
UK price £17.99
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Why did Plato put mathematics at the heart of education for the rulers of his ideal city? Why has mathematics played such a central role in Western philosophy? And just how do we acquire knowledge of necessary truths? Three philosophers of international repute tackle these questions.

M F Burnyeat brings out Plato’s distinctive vision of the world as it objectively is: the structures of mathematics are also the structures that express the nature of the human soul and the soul that governs the world. Ian Hacking highlights the phenomena associated with the actual experience of proof, which so impressed philosopher-mathematicians like Descartes and Leibniz and onlookers like Plato and Wittgenstein. Jonathan Bennett explores modal discovery in Locke and Leibniz, and the infallibility of reason in Descartes and Spinoza. The answers offered by these distinguished scholars make a significant contribution to our understanding of some of the great thinkers of the past.

Readership: Scholars and students of the history of philosophy, and the history of mathematics.

The volume is edited by Timothy Smiley, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of the British Academy.

These Dawes Hicks Lectures on Philosophy were delivered at a symposium held at the Academy in March 1998.


  • Notes on Contributors
  • Timothy Smiley, Preface
  • M F Burnyeat, Plato on Why Mathematics is Good for the Soul
  • Ian Hacking, What Mathematics Has Done to Some and Only Some Philosophers
  • Jonathan Bennett, Infallibility and Modal Knowledge in Some Early Modern Philosophers