PLATONISM, MATHEMATICS AND DIVINITY
Dr Gregory Fried, senior lecturer, Department of Philosophy, University of Cape Town
In the ancient philosopher Plato we find an exalted vision of pure mathematical study: by focusing on what is timeless and perfect, mathematics helps to turn our souls towards the highest matters. For some of Plato’s followers, Euclid’s magnificent and austere compendium of ancient mathematics, The Elements, is precious not merely because it provides tools for scientific applications, or because it sharpens the intellect, but primarily because it serves as a ladder for the soul’s ascent. This course considers certain profound thinkers around the ancient Mediterranean who express their views on mathematics, transforming philosophical admiration into mystical reverence. It then turns to some more recent heirs to this tradition, thinkers who see divine significance of various kinds in mathematics. According to such philosophers and theologians, the objects of pure mathematics are metaphors for God’s nature, tools for accessing God’s creation, or even thoughts in the mind of God.
- Plato’s quest for the ideal
- Euclid’s dazzling work of mathematics and the neo-Platonic mystical turn
- Heirs of the Platonists: some modern thinkers on the religious significance of mathematics