The emergence of symbolic algebra as a shift in predominant models

Foundations of Science 13 (2):149--161 (2008)
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Historians of science find it difficult to pinpoint to an exact period in which symbolic algebra came into existence. This can be explained partly because the historical process leading to this breakthrough in mathematics has been a complex and diffuse one. On the other hand, it might also be the case that in the early twentieth century, historians of mathematics over emphasized the achievements in algebraic procedures and underestimated the conceptual changes leading to symbolic algebra. This paper attempts to provide a more precise setting for the historical context in which this decisive step to symbolic reasoning took place. For that purpose we will consider algebraic problem solving as model-based reasoning and symbolic representation as a model. This allows us to characterize the emergence of symbolic algebra as a shift from a geometrical to a symbolic mode of representation. The use of the symbolic as a model will be situated in the context of mercantilism where merchant activity of exchange has led to reciprocal relations between money and wealth.



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Albrecht Heeffer
University of Ghent

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References found in this work

The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: Language.Ernst Cassirer - 1953 - New Haven: Yale University Press.
Les Mote et les Choses.Michel Foucault - 1969 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 74 (2):250-251.
The philosophy of symbolic forms.Ernst Cassirer, Ralph Manheim & Charles W. Hendel - 1957 - Les Etudes Philosophiques 12 (4):399-399.

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