Needless to say, the issue of necessary vs. probable knowledge in mathematics is a truly complex one, and mentioning it here in passing opens the way to various kinds of justified criticism. Using Aristotle’s wording here, however, is intended simply as a helpful “abuse of language,” and not as an encompassing statement about this question. For a more detailed, historically oriented discussion of this point, see Leo Corry, “The Origins of Eternal Truth in Modern Mathematics: Hilbert to Bourbaki and Beyond,” Science in Context 12 (1998): 137-183.

Also the role of probability and necessity in literary texts, and particularly Aristotle’s treatment of this question in the Poetics, is not at all a straightforward issue. See for instance , Dorothea Frede, “Necessity, Chance and ‘What Happens for the Most Part’ in Aristotle’s Poetics,” in Essays on Aristotle’s Poetics, Amélie O. Rorty (ed.)  (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 197-220; Neil O’Sullivan, “Aristotle on Dramatic Probability,” Classical Journal  91 (1995/6): 47-63. As Frede makes clear, Aristotle imported this idea of necessity into his discussion of tragedy from his theory of the natural sciences. Thus, it clearly differs from mathematical necessity. See also, G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, “Aristotle on History and Poetry,” in Rorty (ed.) Essays, pp. 25-32.

Calculating the Limits of Poetic License:
Fictional Narrative and the History of Mathematics

Leo Corry - Tel Aviv University