Quaker Universalist Voice

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A Book Review of Francis Su, Mathematics for Human Flourishing (Yale University Press, 2020)

Math-Block is in us (many of us).  Many suffer from Math-Block. It is psychological, cultural, and curable if we understand the connection of mathematics to living good lives.  The author of F. Su, Mathematics for Human Flourishing (2020) says that we all need help in showing what it means to be a human and to live a full human life, hence human flourishing, for which mathematics is essential.

The book’s purpose is to show how mathematics (and science generally) is linked to becoming a good person.  The short preface sets the tone of the linkage of mathematics and a fulfilling human life.  The themes are offered as universals.

This book is structured as a series of topics identified as basic human desires to flourish, including exploration, meaning, play, beauty, truth, struggle, justice, freedom and community, each with a commentary from the author’s personal, candid, life experience and engaging puzzles and letters from a prisoner, commentator, felon C. Jackson.  For the author and commentator, mathematics is an opportunity to enjoy beautiful ideas, to see reality clearer.

The truth section is an example.  Truth is a basic human desire and a flourishing community value.  Mathematics is a way of exploring the deep parts of truth with a posture of humility. The quest for truth builds on hope, confidence, and trust despite high stakes, complexity.  The right search for truth values intuition, building on tradition and observational experience.  In essence, this is the Quaker way, with slightly different language.

The book includes an index and a bibliography with emphasis on internet resources for teachers and readers.  The end notes are helpful.  In addition, each section includes well-chosen puzzles and problems associated with the section subjects, with an appendix of hints and solutions to these puzzles. There is an appendix of discussion questions for reflection, which track the book sections, except for the epilogue comments with Christopher Jackson.  The author offers a personal webpage with an invitation to engage the author further on mathematics issues in a fulfilling life.

The book is well organized for reader engagement.  The book does not include a summary or concluding section.  For this, the reader must rely on the Preface. The section titles describe 13 universal human desires and include some of the associated virtues related to each theme, which the author also helpfully lists separately in an appendix.   The first paragraph in the Acknowledgments appendix is worth a particular reflective read, along with the final two paragraphs of that appendix on hope.

The appendices, endnotes, virtues list, bibliography and questions are worth the book price.  The content of sections reflects long and intense teaching experience with young people.

Quakers:  There is no reference to Quakers in this book.  There is no clear address to religion in general, except for references to Western European theologians Martin Buber, Blaise Pascal, Pontius Pilate, and Simone Weil. Quakers will sense that Quaker parents are part of the main intended audience.  This book is a ready resource for teachers in First Day Schools and Quaker parents in opening Quaker youth into the fields of reality and conforming practice.



  • How do Quaker parents address issues of truth in integrating understanding of reality (faith) and conduct (practice) for children?


Mathematics for Human Flourishing, Francis Su (Yale University Press, 2020)

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