Nathaniel Miller. Euclid and his twentieth century rivals: Diagrams in the logic of euclidean geometry. Csli studies in the theory and applications of diagrams

Philosophia Mathematica 16 (2):256-264 (2008)
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It is commonplace to view the rigor of the mathematics in Euclid's Elements in the way an experienced teacher views the work of an earnest beginner: respectable relative to an early stage of development, but ultimately flawed. Given the close connection in content between Euclid's Elements and high-school geometry classes, this is understandable. Euclid, it seems, never realized what everyone who moves beyond elementary geometry into more advanced mathematics is now customarily taught: a fully rigorous proof cannot rely on geometric intuition. In his arguments he seems to call illicitly upon our understanding of how objects like triangles and circles behave rather than grounding everything rigorously in axioms.Though widespread, the attitude is in a historical sense puzzling. For over two millenia, mathematicians of all levels studied the arguments in Elements and found nothing substantial missing. The book, on the contrary, represented the limit of mathematical explicitness. It served as the paradigm for careful and exact reasoning. How it could enjoy this reputation for so long is mysterious if careful and exact reasoning demands that all inferences be grounded in a modern axiomatic theory in the way Hilbert did in his famous Foundations of Geometry. By these standards, Euclid's work is deeply flawed. The holes in his arguments are not minor and excusable, but massive and cryptic.With his book Euclid and His Twentieth Century Rivals, Nathaniel Miller makes substantial progress in clearing this mystery up. The book is an explication of FG , a formal system of proof developed by Miller which reconstructs Euclid's deductions as essentially diagrammatic. The holes in Euclid's arguments are taken to appear precisely at those steps which are unintelligible without an accompanying geometric diagram. Interpreting the reasoning in the Elements in terms of a modern axiomatization , …



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John Mumma
California State University, San Bernardino

Citations of this work

Proofs, pictures, and Euclid.John Mumma - 2010 - Synthese 175 (2):255 - 287.
A formal system for euclid’s elements.Jeremy Avigad, Edward Dean & John Mumma - 2009 - Review of Symbolic Logic 2 (4):700--768.
On the Inconsistency of Mumma's Eu.Nathaniel Miller - 2012 - Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 53 (1):27-52.

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The Euclidean Diagram.Kenneth Manders - 2008 - In Paolo Mancosu (ed.), The Philosophy of Mathematical Practice. Oxford University Press. pp. 80--133.

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