Dedekind's 1871 version of the theory of ideals


By the middle of the nineteenth century, it had become clear to mathematicians that the study of finite field extensions of the rational numbers is indispensable to number theory, even if one’s ultimate goal is to understand properties of diophantine expressions and equations in the ordinary integers. It can happen, however, that the “integers” in such extensions fail to satisfy unique factorization, a property that is central to reasoning about the ordinary integers. In 1844, Ernst Kummer observed that unique factorization fails for the cyclotomic integers with exponent 23, i.e. the ring Z[ζ] of integers of the field Q(ζ), where ζ is a primitive twenty-third root of unity. In 1847, he published his theory of “ideal divisors” for cyclotomic integers with prime exponent. This was to remedy the situation by introducing, for each such ring of integers, an enlarged domain of divisors, and showing that each integer factors uniquely as a product of these. He did not actually construct these integers, but, rather, showed how one could characterize their behavior qua divisibility in terms of ordinary operations on the associated ring of integers.



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Jeremy Avigad
Carnegie Mellon University

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The genesis of ideal theory.Harold M. Edwards - 1980 - Archive for History of Exact Sciences 23 (4):321-378.

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