The Fluidity of Simplicity: Philosophy, Mathematics, Art

  • Juliet FloydEmail author
Part of the Mathematics, Culture, and the Arts book series (MACUAR)


Simplicity is not simple. It wears many faces, and stands for a host of factors we use in argumentation. In the following narrative, the notion will not be analyzed. Instead, a parade of different observations about simplicity will be run through, drawing on philosophy, mathematics, and art. This run-through is designed to allow a certain ideal of simplicity to emerge. This ideal, as it happens, has been explicitly adhered to by a wide variety of modern thinkers: philosophers, mathematicians, and artists. Our aim is to characterize it.



This paper would not have come to be without numerous conversations, exhibitions, and lecture opportunities afforded me, above all by Juliette Kennedy. In addition, I thank the participants and audience at the CUNY Graduate Center Conference on “Simplicity: Ideals of Practice in Mathematics & the Arts,” April 4, 2013, as well as the co-organizers with Juliette, Roman Kossak, and Philip Ording. Early versions of this paper were given at the symposium “Aesthetics and Mathematics,” organized by Juliette Kennedy, Rosalie Iemhoff, and Albert Visser at Utrecht University, 10 November 2007 in conjunction with the exhibition at the Mondriaanhuis, Logic Unfettered—European and American Abstraction Now; at the American Academy of Berlin, October 27, 2008; at the PhiMSAMP conference “Is Mathematics Special?” held at the University of Vienna, May 17, 2008; at the Paris VIII seminar of Antonia Soulez, “Intentionnel/Intentionnel devant les régles,” May 13, 2009; and at the Annual Nordic Wittgenstein Society Meeting, Stavanger, Norway May 30, 2015. I am grateful to the members of the audiences on these occasions for their comments, as well as to the students in my spring 2016 Wittgenstein seminar at Boston University. Helpful comments on a late draft were provided by Ubaldo Di Benedetto, Akihiro Kanamori, Roman Kossak, Andrea MacGown, and an anonymous referee. I am grateful to Caroline Jones and Scott Rothkopf for their suggestions about Bochner’s work.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBoston UniversityBostonUSA

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