Science and an African Logic

Front Cover
University of Chicago Press, Dec 15, 2001 - Philosophy - 277 pages
Does 2 + 2 = 4? Ask almost anyone and they will unequivocally answer yes. A basic equation such as this seems the very definition of certainty, but is it?

In this captivating book, Helen Verran addresses precisely that question by looking at how science, mathematics, and logic come to life in Yoruba primary schools. Drawing on her experience as a teacher in Nigeria, Verran describes how she went from the radical conclusion that logic and math are culturally relative, to determining what Westerners find so disconcerting about Yoruba logic, to a new understanding of all generalizing logic. She reveals that in contrast to the one-to-many model found in Western number systems, Yoruba thinking operates by figuring things as wholes and their parts. Quantity is not absolute but always relational. Certainty is derived not from abstract logic, but from cultural practices and associations.

A powerful story of how one woman's investigation in this everday situation led to extraordinary conclusions about the nature of numbers, generalization, and certainty, this book will be a signal contribution to philosophy, anthropology of science, and education.
 

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Contents

Disconcertment
Toward Generative Critique
15
A Comparative Study of Yoruba and English Number Systems
45
Decomposing Displays of Numbers
65
Toward Telling the Social Lives of Numbers
86
Learning to Apply Numbers to Nature
117
Decomposing Generalizing as Finding Abstract Objects
137
Toward Generalization as Transition
150
Two Consistent Logics of Numbering
171
Decomposing PredicatingDesignating as Representing
200
Embodied Certainty and PredicatingDesignating
214
Notes
233
References
261
Index
269
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About the author (2001)

Helen Verran taught at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, between 1979 and 1986. She is currently a senior lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne.

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