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An epistemological and didactic study of a specific calculus reasoning rule. (English)
Educ. Stud. Math. 60, No. 2, 149-172 (2005).
It is widely attested that university students face considerable difficulties with reasoning in analysis, especially when dealing with statements involving two different quantifiers. We focus in this paper on a specific mistake which appears in proofs where one applies twice or more a statement of the kind "for all X, there exists Y such that R(X, Y)", and forgets that in that case, a priori, "Y depends on X". We analyse this mistake from both a logical and mathematical point of view, and study it through two inquiries, an historical one and a didactic one. We show that mathematics teachers emphasise the importance of the dependence rule in order to avoid this kind of mistake, while natural deduction in predicate calculus provides a logical framework to analyse and control the use of quantifiers. We show that the relevance of this dependence rule depends heavily on the context: nearly without interest in geometry, but fundamental in analysis or linear algebra. As a consequence, mathematical knowledge is a key to correct reasoning, so that there is a large distance between beginners’ and experts’ abilities regarding control of validity, that, to be shortened, probably requires more than a syntactic rule or informal advice. (orig.)
Classification: E55 E35 I15
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