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Science and an African Logic

Does 2 + 2 = 4? Ask almost anyone and they will unequivocally answer yes. A basic equation such as this seems the very definition of certainty, but is it?

In this captivating book, Helen Verran addresses precisely that question by looking at how science, mathematics, and logic come to life in Yoruba primary schools. Drawing on her experience as a teacher in Nigeria, Verran describes how she went from the radical conclusion that logic and math are culturally relative, to determining what Westerners find so disconcerting about Yoruba logic, to a new understanding of all generalizing logic. She reveals that in contrast to the one-to-many model found in Western number systems, Yoruba thinking operates by figuring things as wholes and their parts. Quantity is not absolute but always relational. Certainty is derived not from abstract logic, but from cultural practices and associations.

A powerful story of how one woman’s investigation in this everday situation led to extraordinary conclusions about the nature of numbers, generalization, and certainty, this book will be a signal contribution to philosophy, anthropology of science, and education.

Table of Contents

Part One: Introduction
1. Disconcertment
2. Toward Generative Critique
Part Two: Numbering
3. A Comparative Study of Yoruba and English Number Systems
4. Decomposing Displays of Numbers
5. Toward Telling the Social Lives of Numbers
Part Three: Generalizing
6. Learning to Apply Numbers to Nature
7. Decomposing Generalizing as "Finding Abstract Objects"
8. Toward Generalization as Transition
Part Four: Certainty
9. Two Consistent Logics of Numbering
10. Decomposing Predicating-Designating as Representing
11. Embodied Certainty and Predicating-Designating


Society for Social Studies of Science: Ludwik Fleck Prize

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