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Title: Senior Oration of James Kelly for the Dialectic Society, March 10, 1860: "Is the Study of Mathematics Injurious to the Mind?": Electronic Edition.
Author: Kelly, James
Funding from the University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Bari Helms
Images scanned by Stephanie Adamson
Text encoded by Stephanie Adamson
First Edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: ca. 20K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-01-11, Stephanie Adamson finished TEI/XML encoding.
Source(s):
Title of collection: Records of the Dialectic Society (#40152), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: Senior Oration of James Kelly for the Dialectic Society, March 10, 1860: "Is the Study of Mathematics Injurious to the Mind?"
Author: James Kelly
Description: 8 pages, 8 page images
Note: Call number 1860 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
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Senior Oration of James Kelly for the Dialectic Society, March 10, 1860: "Is the Study of Mathematics Injurious to the Mind?"

Kelly, James



[Cover] page
Senior Oration
delivered
in
Dialectic Hall
March the 10th. A.D. 1860
by
James Kelly.

Page [3]
Is the Study of Mathematics injurious to the mind?
I suppose no science ever met with so great opposition as mathematics and that from so many different sources. The philosopher and the fool, the skeptic and the credulous, the divine and the infidel have all united in pronouncing one eternal anathema upon the study of mathematics; yet like other truths, it still survives and will survive.
Sir William Hamilton, having marsheld all the enemies who ever drew a sword against mathematics and indeed presented a formidable front on the metaphysical battlefield, made a desperate charge upon the enemy and attempted to drive it from the strong holds which it occupied in the universities and colleges throughout the educated world. It bore the shock without a fluctuation, maintained its ground, maintains it still and will ever maintain it so long as men [unrecovered] distinguish between truth and falsehood.

Page [4]
Hamilton might have collected all the denunciations, witticisms, and sarcasms ever uttered against mathematics, and have arranged them with logical precision, and yet with all his metaphysical skill, he would have succeeded but badly in convincing either the intelligent or the ignorant that the study of mathematics is injurious to the mind while such men as Newton, Franklin, and a host of others drank their most invigorating draughts from its deepest waters. Indeed these were shining lights placed upon hill tops which could not be hid.
I do not attempt to show that mathematics is the best study to discipline the mind, that preeminence I do not know that we are able to assign to any particular study. My purpose alone is to show that it is not injurious. The design of an education is to discipline and develop the intellectual faculties and thus enable us to reason correctly. and reasoning is the ascertaining of truth. Now the primary branches of mathematics, have well been called, the science of precision; for in them we deal with facts we deal with truths. And how it can be, that the investigation of truth, the familiarizing ourselves with truth [unrecovered] the relations between truth and truth, are inj[unrecovered]

Page [5]
to our reasoning faculties, while the design of reasoning is the ascertaining of truth, I must confess I am not able to see. Yet this is urged against the study of mathematics. It is said that in it, we deal with facts, while in the world we are surrounded by contingencies, and have to reason about probabilities, and being conversant only with facts we are not qualified for the real condition of things in life. Were it a fact that in mathematics we dealt only with facts, I doubt very much that the conclusion is true (viz) that we are thereby disqualified for reasoning about probabilities. But the urgers of this objection forget, that in the higher mathematics, calculus and the other branches based upon its principles, we reason about probabilities. This part of the science is not called the science of precision but of approximation.
Again it is urged against the study of mathematics that men of ordinary ability can make great proficiency in it. Perhaps they can, but before any man can make efficient progress in the study of mathematics he must have acquired the power of concentrating his mind, shutting himself out [unrecovered] it were from the external world and centering his [unrecovered] upon the object under investigation. But the

Page [6]
power of concentrating the mind is admitted by all to be one of the highest characteristics of a well disciplined mind, therefore the study by which this power is acquired and that too by men of ordinary ability, must not only not be injurious to the mind but must be considered one of the best disciplines for the mind.
Were I able to enter into a metaphysical discussion of this subject I would not be disposed to do so; for we have external arguments equally conclusive and far more intelligible. We are created with a desire for happiness. We are surrounded by thousands of objects which may be converted to our happiness, we reasonably conclude and all admit that it is our duty to promote our own and others happiness. We have a mind it is also our duty to improve it. Now if the acquiring of that knowledge by means of which we are enabled to increase our happiness be injurious to our minds, the plans of God in respect to us will conflict with each other which is derogatory to His infinite wisdom and therefore cannot be. No science nor art has conduced so much to the happiness of the human race as mathematics. We cannot conceive how utterly destitute we would be without mathematical knowledge, for there would be no machinery without mathematics and no clothes without machinery, there be but little food without grinding and no grindin[unrecovered]

Page [7]
out machinery. But under the benign influence of the mathematician machineries are invented, factories are constructed, and all our wants are supplied. The expansive ocean is no longer a barrier to the friendly intercourse of distant nations, but the mathematician directs the ship over the billowy deep and steers it safely to the harbor prepared according to his own planing. Commerce follows navigation, then cities spring up and the means of enjoyment are placed in the reach of thousands. The mathematician turns his course inland, before him as he travels, valleys rise Hills and mountains fall or open a passage to him through their hearts, and an iron track marks his stately steppings. When his journey is completed, he turns and strikes his wand to the ground then rushes forth the iron horse always panting but never tiring; as he runs he scatters, on each side of his path, the rich products of distant nations. At the command of the mathematician the winding river becomes straight and its rugged banks and broken bottom become smooth and form an easy path for a kindred offspring of his magic wand. Is this all he has done? The harmless cloud above our heads reply "he has stolen my thunder and converted it into the message bird in whose wing is the speed of [unrecovered]." The earth beneath our feet echos the sound [unrecovered] has aided the geologist in descending into my inner-

Page [9]
most recesses and robbing me of my richest treasures. These are some of the benefits which flow from mathematical knowledge. Yet if the ungrateful enemies of mathematics will not acknowledge their benefactors, let them not dare to charge God with the folly or the inconsistency of giving us such a strong desire for the enjoyment of the objects in our reach, and a conscience approving a proper gratification of this desire, and then a mind which will be injured by acquiring the knowledge by means of which we can convert these objects to our enjoyment.
There is also implanted within our breasts a desire for knowledge for sake of knowledge itself. The gratification of this desire is esteemed laudable. We are surrounded by the works of an All Wise Creator, myriads of worlds are in our vision, some are fixed and others have a relative motion with respect to each other and with respect to our own planet. We desire to know the laws which regulate these motions, and no higher mental attainment can be well conceived of, than by understanding the laws by which the works of an all wise Creator are verned and forming some conception of Him through [unrecovered works, comprehending somewhat the vastness

Page [11]
of His plans, the inexhaustibleness of His resources, the unlimitedness of His power, and the infinitedness of His wisdom. Nothing could be more absurd than to think such knowledge injurious to the mind. But such knowledge is only obtained by mathematical investigation. It was the mathematician who discovered the nothing upon which the vast universe is suspended. And he with untiring step and some rudeness too I must confess, pursued the moon in her revolutions, until she reluctantly confessed that the mild beams she so profusely lavished upon us were not her own but all borrowed from the sun. Then buoyant with success he stared the sun in his face until he blushing exposed a confused and spotted countenance. With his ordinates and coordinates he steps form one fixed star to another and measures the distance between. He tells us when and where the sun will withhold his light and, the moon vail her face in darkness, and planets refuse to contribute their mites. With an iron grasp he catches the wild comet by his fiery tail and will not let him go until he tells him when he will be round again. At his gaze the nebulae which appear as vapor to others, are increased to fixed stars other nebulae appear in the far distant, which tell [unrecovered] much yet remains to be done before the end of space can be seen [unrecovered] by a mathematician.