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Philosophy of Mathematics

Unit code: PHIL30722
Credit Rating: 20
Unit level: Level 3
Teaching period(s): Semester 1
Offered by Philosophy
Available as a free choice unit?: N



Additional Requirements

Pre-requisites: 40 units of Level 2 Philosophy courses

40 PHIL credits at Level 2.


The course aims to:

- give a detailed understanding of some important debates within contemporary philosophy of mathematics;
- enable students to engage critically with some recent contributions to these debates; and
- enhance students' powers of critical analysis, reasoning and independent thought.


This course will introduce students to the lively contemporary debate over the metaphysics of mathematics. Are there such things as numbers (or other mathematical objects)? If so, what they are like, and how do we manage to acquire knowledge of them? If these objects do not exist, then what is it that we know when we know that 2+2=4?

Discussion of technicalities will be kept to a minimum, and no special expertise in mathematics will be assumed. The arguments discussed raise important questions about the relation of philosophy to mathematics, science, and ordinary talk and belief; the course will place particular stress on these issues.

Teaching and learning methods

Two one-hour lectures and one one-hour tutorial weekly

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to demonstrate:

- a detailed critical understanding of some important debates within contemporary philosophy of mathematics;
- a thorough knowledge of some recent contributions to these debates; and
- an ability to present carefully-argued and independent lines of thought in this area.

Employability skills

  • Analytical skills
  • Innovation/creativity
  • Leadership
  • Project management
  • Oral communication
  • Problem solving
  • Research
  • Written communication

Assessment Further Information

100% - EXAM

Recommended reading

Shapiro, Stewart 2000. Thinking About Mathematics, chapters 1 and 2.
Colyvan, Mark 2001. The Indispensability of Mathematics, chapters 1, 2, 4, 5.

Feedback methods

There will be a compulsory three-hour take-home mock exam on which you will receive written feedback.

We also draw your attention to the variety of generic forms of feedback available to you on this as on all SoSS courses. These include: meeting the lecturer/tutor during their office hours; e-mailing questions to the lecturer/tutor; asking questions from the lecturer (before and after lectures); and obtaining feedback from your peers during tutorials.

The School of Social Sciences (SoSS) is committed to providing timely and appropriate feedback to students on their academic progress and achievement, thereby enabling students to reflect on their progress and plan their academic and skills development effectively. Students are reminded that feedback is necessarily responsive: only when a student has done a certain amount of work and approaches us with it at the appropriate fora is it possible for us to feed back on the student's work.

Study hours

  • Lectures - 20 hours
  • Tutorials - 10 hours
  • Independent study hours - 170 hours

Teaching staff

David Liggins - Unit coordinator

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