Abstract / Synopsis
Mathematicians sometimes judge a mathematical proof to be beautiful and in doing so seem to be making a judgement of the same kind as aesthetic judgements of works of visual art, music or literature. Mathematical proofs are also appraised for explanatoriness: some proofs merely establish their conclusions as true, while others also show why their conclusions are true. This paper will focus on the prima facie plausible assumption that, for mathematical proofs, beauty and explanatoriness tend to go together.
To make headway we need to have some grip on what it is for a proof to be beautiful, and for that we need some account of judgements of beauty in general. That is the concern of the first section. The second section faces the problem that it is far from obvious how abstract entities, such as mathematical proofs, can be beautiful, strictly and literally speaking. Reasons are given for the view that they can be. The third section introduces the distinction between proofs which explain their conclusions and proofs which do not. Finally, the question whether, for mathematical proofs, the beautiful and the explanatory tend to coincide is addressed. It is argued that we have reason to doubt that explanatory proofs tend to be beautiful, and insufficient reason to believe or disbelieve that beautiful proofs tend to be explanatory.
Marcus Giaquinto, "Mathematical Proofs: The Beautiful and The Explanatory," Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, Volume 6 Issue 1 (January 2016), pages 52-72. DOI: 10.5642/jhummath.201601.05. Available at: https://scholarship.claremont.edu/jhm/vol6/iss1/5