Andrew Arana

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2014/2015
discipline Philosophy
Associate professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Research project

Purity of Methods


This project aims at the production of a research monograph on purity of methods, a key issue in the philosophy of mathematics. A chief aim of mathematical practice is proving theorems. A minimal constraint on proof is logical soundness, to ensure that it justifies belief in the truth of the theorem in question. But mathematicians often employ other constraints toward other goals, such as seeking efficiency of proof. This project focuses on one such constraint, purity of methods. Roughly, a proof of a theorem is "pure" if it draws only on what is "close" or "intrinsic'' to that theorem. Purity concerns go back to antiquity: Aristotle states a version of the constraint for his demonstrations. They have been widely cited in discussions of analytic geometry, Descartes' method for transferring problems from geometry to algebra and then back again so that both algebraic and geometric methods can be employed in this solution procedure. They remain live today, in discussions of analytic number theory and algebraic geometry. In each case the question is whether the knowledge produced by proofs is impacted, positively or negatively, by the "mixing" of mathematical areas. Though mathematicians are highly conscious of this constraint, with some actively favoring it and others against it, they have difficulty explaining their reasons for their views. This is because this question requires philosophical analysis, and locates precisely what my proposed project contributes. My project thus has two focal questions: (i) how distance between proof and theorem should be measured; and (ii) why mathematicians value purity (and whether they are rational in doing so). Crucial to answering these questions is both work on meaning in mathematics, and careful case studies that reveal more closely how this constraint is employed in practice. This project thus fits neatly into the emerging area of research called the philosophy of mathematical practice, which aims at analysis and reflection upon mathematics as a human activity from antiquity through today. Work in this area, like mine, is essentially interdisciplinary, bringing together work from philosophy, history, mathematics, computer science, and psychology, among others. Until now, though, there has been no sustained monograph-length treatment of this topic. My proposal then aims to remedy this gap by producing a monograph that can serve as the first place to look for those interested in this topic. The expected output of this fellowship, then, is such a monograph, to be submitted to a major press for publication.




Andrew Arana is Associate Professor in the departments of Philosophy and Mathematics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He holds a Ph.D in Philosophy and Mathematics from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.


His main research interest are Logic, History and Philosophy of Mathematics.


Selected publications


'On the depth of Szemerédi's Theorem', Philosophia Mathematica [online journal], doi: 10.1093/philmat/nku036, accessed 6 January, 2015.

'Purity in arithmetic: some formal and informal issues', in G. Link (ed.), Formalism and Beyond. On the Nature of Mathematical Discourse, Boston/Berlin, 2014, pp. 315–336.


'On the relationship between plane and solid geometry', with P. Mancosu, Review of Symbolic Logic, vol. 5, no. 2, 2012, pp. 294—353.

'L'infinité des nombres premiers : une étude de cas de la pureté des méthodes', Les études philosophiques, vol. 2, 2011, pp. 193–213.

'Purity of methods', with M. Detlefsen, Philosophers' Imprint, vol. 11, no. 2, 2011, pp. 1-20.

'Descartes and the cylindrical helix', with P. Mancosu, Historia Mathematica, vol. 37, no. 3, 2010, pp. 403–427.

'On formally measuring and eliminating extraneous notions in proofs', Philosophia Mathematica, vol. 17, 2009, pp. 208–219.





junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
IMéRA, Aix-Marseille Institute for Advanced Study
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
IMéRA, Aix-Marseille Institute for Advanced Study
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
IMéRA, Aix-Marseille Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Archaeology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
IMéRA, Aix-Marseille Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Literature