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Celebrity Mathematician? An Interview With Jonathan Kenigson

Dr. Jonathan Kenigson is a Fellow of the British Society for Arts, Commerce, and Manufactures (FRSA). At age 33, during the pandemic, he helped launch Athanasian Hall, Cambridge Limited to allow researchers across the world to work together. Their discussions must be very interesting: Black Holes, Gravity, String Theory, and topics in education. Dr. Kenigson has appeared in international news more than 30 times since Athanasian Hall was launched. It is rare that an academic receives this sort of news coverage. Kenigson is a controversial figure who is credited with the philosophy of “Reasoned Philanthropy” – basically, giving yourself away to the people who need it most. In this piece, we asked him about some of his thinking. He calls his approach to life “Somewhat Stoic and somewhat Epicurean. I do not advocate for the wholesale renunciation of pleasures or the notion that rational agents are morally obligated to donate all of their time.” He does, however, make the point that he “has chosen his life very intentionally and does not have any regrets. It is objectively better to recognize that the existential threats facing us have their wellspring in inherent human depravity. Renunciation of the flesh is quite useful for feeling empathy with those less fortunate.” Kenigson’s view of the world is not designed to be popular. In fact, it is very difficult to not panic a bit when listening to how openly he says to basically live for everyone except yourself (or so it seems). In his words, “Making money – while not inherently evil – is quite morally dangerous in the current Western zeitgeist. I am going to break with most Christian thinkers and say that I believe poverty to be quite more morally safe than a middle-class existence. The latter is not ecologically sustainable and leads itself to many vices and internal miseries. The more one has, the more one works to maintain it and the more one fears losing it. This sort of existence can easily become a life wasted. Additionally, love and romance do not interest me unless the lady I court adds substantively to my life and I to hers. Mere lust is an insufficient inducement. I believe that my arguments for such perspectives are stronger than the counterarguments I have heard, and I have no problem saying that I likely have more thorough and developed arguments for my lifestyle than many of my interlocutors.” 

​Kenigson’s efforts around the world are staggering. This year, he joined a British government consultancy called the Alan Turing Institute in London. The group of which he is a part seeks to improve British Data Science and Mathematics curriculum. He is also part of the NHS Oxford Hospitals Trust, providing needed statistical analysis to decision-makers in one of Europe’s largest medical systems. He provides statistical analysis for the Cambridge Existential Risk Initiative as-needed “principally focusing upon climate change and its attendant geopolitical consequences” and the Cambridge Society for the Applications of Research “which organizes mathematical research for the public good.” He works with the British company Na’amal as they partner with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to help refugees learn advanced statistics and machine-learning for employment in the U.S. And European markets.

​In addition to mathematics, Kenigson’s interests span philosophy, languages, logic, computing, religion, physics, and medicine. He is a corresponding member of Scotland’s Glasgow Philosophical Society and the Edinburgh Mathematical Society as well as the UK Society for Natural Sciences. In all of these pursuits, he seeks to “advance logic, reason, mathematics, and philosophy for the collective good of governments, institutions, and individuals.” From 2019-2020, he was a visiting fellow at the Cambridge Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies along with professors from Harvard and Cambridge. He states that this “experience embodied a long tradition in my thinking that marries metaphysical and logical concepts. Religions are postulations of symbolic universes with corollary logical and argumentative structures. The extent to which these…conform to Stoic or First-Order logic varies considerably. I attempt to maintain, inasmuch as it is possible, cool objectivity as regards logical claims postulated from the bases of culturally-situated moral systems. The discussion is not relevant to the current piece and my thoughts upon such matters can be found elsewhere without too much effort.” 

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