If one takes a look at the list of classes offered at a university, one can discover a very diverse list with very inventive names. If one becomes more curious and reads some of the descriptions of those classes, it might not be unusual, among the seemingly long list of required textbooks, to see that at least one mathematics course is a prerequisite for the class. Although it might be quite a challenge, people registered for this class are assumed to “master” this mathematics course, an assumption that could result in a disaster in the long run if this class seriously is based on the mathematical notions. Of course, this apparent ubiquity of the necessity of mathematics will differ among departments, where the natural sciences and engineering departments might be the primary users and the humanities departments the less frequent users; again, I don’t think this would be a general rule.
This reliance on mathematics may help reinforce the idea that mathematics is everywhere and that the modern world with its obsession with data might not be possible. However, some people claim that philosophy encompasses all forms of knowledge, which could lead one to believe that those classes should have listed at least one philosophy class as a prerequisite. For example, in a physics class, while it might be seen as useful to know how to derive the position function to get the velocity function or integrate over vector fields, one could ask whether it would not equally be necessary to understand how humans’ understanding of time and space might actually have shaped those physical theories, which could then explain why derivatives and integrals are needed in the first place. In such a case, wouldn’t reading Kant be as useful as reading a calculus textbook. Similarly, for a finance class, besides some knowledge of statistics, couldn’t it be seen as crucial to understand some serious ethical dilemmas already tackled by philosophers or to explore ideas about money and transactions in the past which might shape modern financial practices? Furthermore, while computer science students might be expected to master Boolean algebra and to know how to convert decimal numbers into binary numbers, wouldn’t it as well be necessary that they know computers were not always objects but were humans and that they think about philosophical implications of such a shift; however practical some of them might consider their field of study to be, couldn’t it be seen as necessary to remind them that computers are products of philosophical consideration of the idea of computation? In this case, wouldn’t some reading of the philosophical writings of Leibniz, Gödel, Kant, Frege be as crucial as knowing the binary numbers? One can even push further in this philosophical reductionism by asking whether philosophy is not needed for the mathematics classes themselves by arguing that the way mathematics is currently done is influenced by philosophy, which could make writings of Plato and many other philosophers as important as reading proofs of theorems.
Observing the phenomenon of the seeming overreliance on mathematics, would this apparent neglect of philosophy be an accident or does this reflect some people’s view of what should be considered as useful subjects to learn?
Please, share your thoughts.