I was just pondering as a mathematics major, is there a particular instance where a mathematician's work doe NOT require agreements among peer scholars of mathematics to determine the quality of the knowledge being produced in mathematics?

I do think that mathematics does not require agreements to assess the quality of the knowledge being produced because the mathematics is a self evident and standing subject. But also I am curious on what the arguments may be because despite my already posted question I am still confused with the question:

"why wouldn't mathematics require consensus for determining the quality of knowledge?"

Can anyone give me an in depth argument regarding this topic?

Thank you in advance.

EDIT: For instance the quality of knowledge I mean in this particular case refers to how self - evident the logical statements being formed through axiomatic systems which are combined and used in various but appropriate ways. But what I am truly asking is, how can the quality of knowledge in mathematics not be determined by the agreement which comes along with it? In other words, how self evident can mathematics really be, to such an extent that it does not require consensus to determine its validity?

  • Obviously mathematics needs "agreement" with members of the math community. See Georg Cantor and Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer. Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 9:51
  • "why wouldn't mathematics require consensus for determining the quality of knowledge?" See the post Is a proof still valid if only the author understands it ? Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 9:53
  • I still do not understand this notion or argument which support how mathematics doesn't require consensus to determine the quality of knowledge being produced.Is there like a good text ADDRESSING platonic realism where it purely supports mathematical truthfulness purely by the virtue of its existence? I do not get the argument posed in the links you have provided, I will appreciate some indepth explanation. Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 12:02
  • What do you mean by 'quality of knowledge'? Do you mean whether or not the theorems being proven are true, or are useful, or are interesting, or something else? Right now your question is vague because it is not clear what exactly it is you are asking about.
    – Not_Here
    Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 14:12
  • I am trying to figure out if consensus is required to determine the quality of knowledge in mathematics. The quality of knowledge I am referring here refers to how true the knowledge is. Could you enlighten me with some support backing this idea? Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 15:33

2 Answers 2


To answer this question, one must ask: What is quality?

If quality is correctness, then all a work requires is to show beyond reasonable doubt that the relevant logical steps have been taken from the axioms to the given conclusions.

If quality is usefulness, then a work needs to satisfy the criteria for correctness, along with methods, premeses or conclusions which are relevant to future work, and as a result usually building on previous work.

If quality, on the other hand, is something like fame, then consensus is sufficient but not necessary, as there are example of (in)famous people like Miles Mathis using shoddy methods to prove such absurdities as "pi = 4".

Different understandings of quality lead to different answers to the question.

  • "What is quality?" -- Ah, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance!
    – user4894
    Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 18:38

Plato's notion of anamnesis may not apply to much of the world. But in mathematics, his chosen example in the Theatetus, it seems right. Logic does not require consensus to determine its validity because it is an inborn feature of human beings. Even if we are not trained in any kind of formal reasoning, at a given age and level of intelligence, we have a predictable reaction to contradictions and impossibilities. The most basic kinds of math seem more like remembering than learning.

Mathematics elaborates logic, and seeks out similar things that we will naturally all agree upon (e.g. a straight line as we naturally imagine it, until we think about it too seriously, is infinite and infinitely divisible.)

It can be wrong about what those are, but once it has found one, it can reasonably combine it with all the others it has already collected.

In the history of mathematics, ideas really do become mathematics by consensus. Take infinitesimals. They were basic tools for early physics. But then we found the idea was not thoroughly shared, to the degree we got different results from different people when we combined infinitesimal proofs with other known math. They got thrown away and worked around, with the project of 'arithmetizing' analysis. But once we played with them enough, they got reconstructed in different forms until they took a few forms that can be agreed upon.

Yet once they are there, they are there. L/os theorem, Ultraproducts and 'External' numbers are never going away, they seem to really capture this intuition and to be formally stable enough to combine it with the rest of math. It turns out that the intuition of the infinitesimal quantity is real and stable, despite prior extreme worries and apparent demonstrations this was not the case.

On the other hand, mathematical Platonism does fail. There is good evidence that mathematics already contains intuitions that cannot be combined. Russel's theorem suggests that we need to better refine our notions of self-reference, universality or negation. We have silly workarounds, but in the end, the contradiction is really there. When people get close to those boundaries, like the people working in ordinal theory, there is a real necessity for consensus, and a competition between interpretations. It is possible that some of what is accepted now really does lie too close to the boundaries where things break down and within the area ruled out by Russel's paradox and the resulting notion of 'proper classes'. Whether to consider it math sometimes remains a judgement call. We will know only when the building upon it proves useful or falls apart.

Likewise, there are competing relative concepts in math that are in direct competition. Our definition of measuring space and the set-theoretic Axiom of Choice are at odds. Together they give us Tarski's paradox. Whether that is a problem or just a quirk of mathematical reality is not an issue where there is consensus. Folks who think it is a problem have proven the axiom is largly dispensable, and not very much ultimately depends upon it. So they look askance at its continued use. Others have even proposed axioms that seem more useful and rule out this possibility, like the Axiom of Determinacy.

So your overall impression that all of mathematics is free of subjective judgement is not real. But large tracts of it are safe, without seeking consensus, because they are built upon inborn reactions and filtered by rather harsh standards before we start building on them.

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