American Journal of Educational Research. 2014, 2(5), 291-298DOI:
Abstract: In this paper our main objective is to interpret the major concepts in Wittgenstein’s philosophy of mathematics, in particular, language games and forms of life, from a social constructivist point of view in an attempt to show that this philosophy is still very relevant in the way mathematics is being taught and practiced today. We start out with a brief discussion of radical constructivism followed by a rudimentary analysis of the basic tenets of social constructivism, the final blow against absolutism – the soulless landmark of mathematics as often construed by the uninitiated. We observe that, the social constructivist epistemology of mathematics reinstates mathematics, and rightfully so, as “…a branch of knowledge which is indissolubly connected with other knowledge, through the web of language” (Ernest 1999), and portrays mathematical knowledge as a process that should be considered in conjunction with its historical origins and within a social context. Consequently, like any other form of knowledge based on human opinion or judgment, mathematical knowledge has the possibility of losing its truth or necessity, as well. In the third section we discuss the main points expounded in Wittgenstein’s two books, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations, as well as in his “middle period” that is characterized by such works as Philosophical Remarks, Philosophical Grammar, and Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics. We then briefly introduce the two main concepts in Wittgenstein’s philosophy that will be used in this paper: forms of life and language games. In the fifth and final section, we emphasize the connections between social constructivism and Wittgenstein’s philosophy of mathematics. Indeed, we argue that the apparent certainty and objectivity of mathematical knowledge, to paraphrase Ernest (Ernest 1998), rest on natural language. Moreover, mathematical symbolism is a refinement and extension of written language: the rules of logic which permeate the use of natural language afford the foundation upon which the objectivity of mathematics rests. Mathematical truths arise from the definitional truths of natural language, and are acquired by social interaction. Mathematical certainty rests on socially accepted rules of discourse embedded in our forms of life, a concept introduced by Wittgenstein (Wittgenstein, 1956).We argue that the social constructivist epistemology draws on Wittgenstein’s (1956) account of mathematical certainty as based on linguistic rules of use and forms of life, and Lakatos’ (1976) account of the social negotiation of mathematical concepts, results, and theories.