The Professional Ethos of Mathematicians

This analysis of the professional ethos of mathematicians, which runs counter to the relativist position of social constructivism, is situated in relation to the contributions and limitations of various sociological approaches to mathematics as a specific scientific practice. It becomes clear that, while the mathematical ethos is dependent to some degree on other factors, it is differentiated—more along esthetic and social dimensions than the epistemic one—by where agents position themselves relative to the “pure” and “applied” mathematics pole of the partially institutionalized opposition between the two in France. Strong elitism is a salient feature of the ethos. The analysis is based primarily on material collected in 2002-2003 via an extensive internet survey of mathematicians and scientists in related sciences (mechanical scientists, theoretical physicists, computer scientists and didacticians of mathematics), all working either in French universities or public research laboratories. The mathematician respondent sample is representative of the target population.