A Genetic Interpretation of Neo-Pythagorean Arithmetic

Oriens - Occidens 7:113-154 (2010)
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Abstract

The style of arithmetic in the treatises the Neo-Pythagorean authors is strikingly different from that of the "Elements". Namely, it is characterised by the absence of proof in the Euclidean sense and a specific genetic approach to the construction of arithmetic that we are going to describe in our paper. Lack of mathematical sophistication has led certain historians to consider this type of mathematics as a feature of decadence of mathematics in this period [Tannery 1887; Heath 1921]. The alleged absence of originality in these works has also given grounds to believe that “the arithmetic presented in these works derives substantially from an ancient, primitive stage of Pythagorean arithmetic” and to use them as “an index of the character of arithmetic science in the 5th century” [Knorr 1975]. In this paper, we take Nicomachus’ Introduction to Arithmetic for point of departure, because it is the richest and most well organised treatise representing this tradition. However, we also take into account the works of other Neo-Pythagorean authors. We are going to show that the Neo-Pythagorean arithmetic might have been developed in a natural, self-contained manner as a simple theory of counting over a domain of concrete initial objects, designated by fixed signs. This approach can be comfortably realised without appealing to assumptions of axiomatic character, but relying upon some ‘genetic’ constructions intented to be carried out by means of the designated entities.

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Ioannis Vandoulakis
Open University of Cyprus

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