5

I do not say all, for when the appeal is to universal suffrage unanimity is not to be hoped.

Mathematical Creation, H. Poincaré (1913), translated to English by George Bruce Halsted (2012)

I do not understand the sentence after the comma.

  • Yes, thank you so much. That sentence is quoted from Poincare's well-known paper Mathematical Creation. – Megadeth Jul 2 '14 at 3:13
  • 2
    Do you understand anything about it? Do you have any specific questions or ideas about the meaning, even if it's just a guess? – Esoteric Screen Name Jul 2 '14 at 5:29
  • As an aside: it's interesting that it's a translation (from French, I presume), and one that was done by a mathematician and not a linguist. It's arguable that the word "for" should be at the end. One does not "hope unanimity"; one "hopes for unanimity". Perhaps Halsted was deterred from adding that final word by fear of being (unfairly) criticized for ending with a preposition. – tkp May 30 '17 at 17:54
7

The quoted sentence in iself seems hard to understand, but it becomes clear when the whole paragraph is analysed:

This has long been appreciated, and some time back the journal called L'enseignement mathématique, edited by Laisant and Fehr, began an investigation of the mental habits and methods of work of different mathematicians. I had finished the main outlines of this article when the results of that inquiry were published, so I have hardly been able to utilize them and shall confine myself to saying that the majority of witnesses confirm my conclusions; I do not say all, for when the appeal is to universal suffrage unanimity is not to be hoped.

The meaning is:

I do not say that all witnesses confirm my conclusions, because, when an entire population (or entire scientific community) is asked for opinion concerning some particular question, it is only natural that different members of that community will provide different (not unanimous) answers.

To appeal to universal suffrage means to use the concept of universal suffrage as the key principle according to which the opinion of a population should be consulted. The concept calls for asking each member of the population what his/her opinion is - usually during elections.

Usually we appeal to a court or a judge or some other higher authority, like a dad or mom or uncle Bob, but we may also appeal to an abstract concept, meaning, to take it as a standard in approaching a particular issue.

2

The sentence portion after the comma intends to state that when there is an expectation from a large population, the same answer is not to be expected from each and every member in the population.

In simpler terms, when you call for a public opinion, you cannot expect that everyone will provide the same answer.

  • 2
    Much appreciated, Ankur – Megadeth Jul 2 '14 at 7:00

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