Hippocratic Oaths for Mathematicians?

Philosophia 51 (3):1579-1603 (2022)
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In this paper I ask whether mathematicians should swear an oath similar to the Hippocratic oath sworn by some medical professionals as a means to foster morally praiseworthy engagement with the ethical dimensions of mathematics. I individuate four dimensions in which mathematics is ethically charged: (1) applying mathematical knowledge to the world can cause harm, (2) participation of mathematicians in morally contentious practices is an ethical issue, (3) mathematics as a social activity faces relevant ethical concerns, (4) mathematical knowledge itself may be ethically charged. I present a conceptual framework for oaths and discuss some empirical results on the effectiveness of oath-taking to foster morally praiseworthy behaviour. My findings suggest that enforcing oath-taking practices in mathematics is not currently a suitable means to foster ethically praiseworthy behaviour amongst mathematicians. Oaths can, however, provide needed edifying narratives about how to act ethically when acting as a mathematician.



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How to do things with words.John Langshaw Austin - 1962 - Oxford [Eng.]: Clarendon Press. Edited by Marina Sbisá & J. O. Urmson.
Plato on Why Mathematics is Good for the Soul.Myles Burnyeat - 1996 - In British Academy (ed.), 1995 Lectures and Memoirs. Oxford University Press USA. pp. 1-81.

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