A Mathematician's Apology

A Mathematician's Apology - A Mathematicians Apology G H...

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A Mathematician s Apology G. H. Hardy
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First Published November 1940 As fifty or more years have passed since the death of the author, this book is now in the public domain in the Dominion of Canada. First Electronic Edition, Version 1.0 March 2005 Published by the University of Alberta Mathematical Sciences Society Available on the World Wide Web at http://www.math.ualberta.ca/mss/
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To J OHN L OMAS who asked me to write it
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Preface I am indebted for many valuable criticisms to Professor C. D. Broad and Dr C. P. Snow, each of whom read my original manuscript. I have incorporated the substance of nearly all of their suggestions in my text, and have so removed a good many crudities and obscurities. In one case, I have dealt with them differently. My §28 is based on a short article which I contributed to Eureka (the journal of the Cambridge Archimedean Society) early in the year, and I found it impossible to remodel what I had written so recently and with so much care. Also, if I had tried to meet such important criticisms seriously, I should have had to expand this section so much as to destroy the whole balance of my essay. I have therefore left it unaltered, but have added a short statement of the chief points made by my critics in a note at the end. G. H. H. 18 July 1940
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1 1 It is a melancholy experience for a professional mathematician to find himself writing about mathematics. The function of a mathematician is to do something, to prove new theorems, to add to mathematics, and not to talk about what he or other mathema- ticians have done. Statesmen despise publicists, painters despise art-critics, and physiologists, physicists, or mathematicians have usually similar feelings: there is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of the men who make for the men who explain. Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds. I can remember arguing this point once in one of the few serious conversations that I ever had with Housman. Housman, in his Leslie Stephen lecture The Name and Nature of Poetry , had denied very emphatically that he was a ‘critic’; but he had denied it in what seemed to me a singularly perverse way, and had expressed an admiration for literary criticism which startled and scandalized me. He had begun with a quotation from his inaugural lecture, delivered twenty-two years before— Whether the faculty of literary criticism is the best gift that Heaven has in its treasures, I cannot say; but Heaven seems to think so, for assuredly it is the gift most charily bestowed. Orators and poets…, if rare in comparison with blackberries, are commoner than re- turns of Halley's comet: literary critics are less com- mon… And he had continued— In these twenty-two years I have improved in some respects and deteriorated in others, but I have not so much improved as to become a literary critic, nor so much deteriorated as to fancy that I have become one.
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2 It had seemed to me deplorable that a great scholar and a fine
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A Mathematician's Apology - A Mathematicians Apology G H...

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