On the Literary Interest of Mathematical Texts
David O'Brien


In this essay I show a way in which some mathematical texts may be read in productive conjunction with literary texts. It might be thought that if one suggests that the texts of mathematics and literature can be mutually enriching, one thereby implicitly endorses a claim that mathematics just is a kind of literature or that literature is somehow mathematical. I do not, however, make either of those claims. I shall show that productive paired readings of mathematical and literary texts are possible because mathematical texts can possess certain minimally literary qualities. By minimally literary, I shall mean a quality of a text that is necessary but (perhaps) not sufficient for the text to be considered literary. I am therefore agnostic as to whether, all things considered, mathematical texts may properly be regarded as literary; the claims of this essay do not presuppose a substantive view about philosophy of literature or philosophy of mathematics. In particular, no equivalence claim about mathematics and literature is here defended; rather, my aim is to establish the possibility and value of reading prima facie dissimilar kinds of texts together.

About the author

David O'Brien holds BAs in Philosophy and English, summa cum laude, from Florida Atlantic University, and a BA (Mod) in Mathematics from Trinity College, Dublin. He will begin postgraduate studies in philosophy in the coming year, with a focus in political philosophy and secondary interests in ethics, logic and philosophy of literature. His previous publications and presentations include essays on community and justice in the work of G. A. Cohen, Martha Nussbaum’s theory of the emotions and Descartes’ account of time.

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