We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Research & business

View Profile

Publication details for Professor Louise Amoore

Amoore, L. (2014). Security and the Incalculable. Security Dialogue 45(5): 423-439.

Author(s) from Durham


In this article, I explore a specific relation between mathematics and security calculations. Recalling the confrontations between the mathematician Alan Turing and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in the 1930s, I am interested in the relationship between intuition and ingenuity. During Wittgenstein’s 1930 lectures on the foundations of mathematics, Turing interjects in order to insist upon the capacity of number: ‘one can make predictions’. Wittgenstein replies that mathematics ‘makes no predictions’, but instead is a form of grammar: ‘taken by itself we shouldn’t know what to do with it; it’s useless. But there is all kind of use for it as part of a calculus’. It is just such a formulation of a calculus or grammar – ‘decision trees’, ‘event trees’, ‘attribute-based algorithms’ – that characterizes contemporary security. As for Turing, the logic comprises ‘two faculties, which we may call intuition and ingenuity’. The intuitive realm of imagination and speculation reaches toward a possible solution, while the ingenuity seeks arrangements of propositions. The advent of ‘rules-based’ and ‘risk-based’ security decisions, then, are always already political because they precisely involve combinatorial possibilities whose arrangement has effects in the world.