How mathematicians obtain conviction: implications for mathematics instruction and research on epistemic cognition

The received view of mathematical practice is that mathematicians gain certainty in mathematical assertions by deductive evidence rather than empirical or authoritarian evidence. This assumption has influenced mathematics instruction where students are expected to justify assertions with deductive arguments rather than by checking the assertion with specific examples or appealing to authorities. In this paper, we argue that the received view about mathematical practice is too simplistic; some mathematicians sometimes gain high levels of conviction with empirical or authoritarian evidence and sometimes do not gain full conviction from the proofs that they read. We discuss what implications this might have, both for for mathematics instruction and theories of epistemic cognition.