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Modernism, Fiction and Mathematics$
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Nina Engelhardt

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474416238

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474416238.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM EDINBURGH SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.edinburgh.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Edinburgh University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ESO for personal use.date: 25 September 2021

Mathematics, Epistemology, Ethics: Robert Musil, the Man Without Qualities

Mathematics, Epistemology, Ethics: Robert Musil, the Man Without Qualities

(p.93) 3 Mathematics, Epistemology, Ethics: Robert Musil, the Man Without Qualities
Modernism, Fiction and Mathematics

Nina Engelhardt

Edinburgh University Press

Chapter 3 argues that mathematics in Musil’s The Man without Qualities not only exemplifies the side of rationality but also encompasses mystical elements and transitional states between these opposites, tracing the identification of a non-rational element in mathematics to the debate between the logicist/formalist and the intuitionist schools. The chapter thus re-examines notions of the rational and non-rational and attempts at their synthesis from the perspective of the history of mathematics. It also demonstrates that, for Musil, mathematics answers to two major instances of modern crisis: the failing of reason and the loss of trust. Paradoxically combining critical questioning of its foundations and confidence in its usefulness, modern mathematics connects the approaches of analytic philosophy and outcome-focused pragmatism. The chapter thus argues that mathematics becomes a model not only of exactitude but also of vagueness and that in this paradoxical double-function it serves to inspire the critical trust needed to adjust epistemology, ethics and aesthetics in a time of profound change. Not least, in its own form The Man without Qualities translates the model of mathematics into literary aesthetic by reflecting simultaneous examination of its conditions and trust in the credit of fiction.

Keywords:   The Man without Qualities, ‘The Mathematical Man’, Epistemology, Ethics, Intuitionism, Pragmatism, Vagueness, Trust

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