We apply Benacerraf’s distinction between mathematical ontology and mathematical practice to examine contrasting interpretations of infinitesimal mathematics of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, in the work of Bos, Ferraro, Laugwitz, and others. We detect Weierstrass’s ghost behind some of the received historiography on Euler’s infinitesimal mathematics, as when Ferraro proposes to understand Euler in terms of a Weierstrassian notion of limit and Fraser declares classical analysis to be a “primary point of reference for understanding the eighteenth-century theories.” Meanwhile, scholars like (...) Bos and Laugwitz seek to explore Eulerian methodology, practice, and procedures in a way more faithful to Euler’s own. Euler’s use of infinite integers and the associated infinite products are analyzed in the context of his infinite product decomposition for the sine function. Euler’s principle of cancellation is compared to the Leibnizian transcendental law of homogeneity. The Leibnizian law of continuity similarly finds echoes in Euler. We argue that Ferraro’s assumption that Euler worked with a classical notion of quantity is symptomatic of a post-Weierstrassian placement of Euler in the Archimedean track for the development of analysis, as well as a blurring of the distinction between the dual tracks noted by Bos. Interpreting Euler in an Archimedean conceptual framework obscures important aspects of Euler’s work. Such a framework is profitably replaced by a syntactically more versatile modern infinitesimal framework that provides better proxies for his inferential moves. (shrink)
Did Leibniz exploit infinitesimals and infinities à la rigueur or only as shorthand for quantified propositions that refer to ordinary Archimedean magnitudes? Hidé Ishiguro defends the latter position, which she reformulates in terms of Russellian logical fictions. Ishiguro does not explain how to reconcile this interpretation with Leibniz’s repeated assertions that infinitesimals violate the Archimedean property (i.e., Euclid’s Elements, V.4). We present textual evidence from Leibniz, as well as historical evidence from the early decades of the calculus, to undermine Ishiguro’s (...) interpretation. Leibniz frequently writes that his infinitesimals are useful fictions, and we agree, but we show that it is best not to understand them as logical fictions; instead, they are better understood as pure fictions. (shrink)
Adequality, or παρισóτης (parisotēs) in the original Greek of Diophantus 1 , is a crucial step in Fermat’s method of finding maxima, minima, tangents, and solving other problems that a modern mathematician would solve using infinitesimal calculus. The method is presented in a series of short articles in Fermat’s collected works (1891, pp. 133–172). The first article, Methodus ad Disquirendam Maximam et Minimam 2 , opens with a summary of an algorithm for finding the maximum or minimum value of an (...) algebraic expression in a variable A. For convenience, we will write such an expression in modern functional notation as f (a). 3 The algorithm can be broken up into six steps in the following way:Introduce an auxiliary .. (shrink)
In relation to a thesis put forward by Marx Wartofsky, we seek to show that a historiography of mathematics requires an analysis of the ontology of the part of mathematics under scrutiny. Following Ian Hacking, we point out that in the history of mathematics the amount of contingency is larger than is usually thought. As a case study, we analyze the historians’ approach to interpreting James Gregory’s expression ultimate terms in his paper attempting to prove the irrationality of \. Here (...) Gregory referred to the last or ultimate terms of a series. More broadly, we analyze the following questions: which modern framework is more appropriate for interpreting the procedures at work in texts from the early history of infinitesimal analysis? As well as the related question: what is a logical theory that is close to something early modern mathematicians could have used when studying infinite series and quadrature problems? We argue that what has been routinely viewed from the viewpoint of classical analysis as an example of an “unrigorous” practice, in fact finds close procedural proxies in modern infinitesimal theories. We analyze a mix of social and religious reasons that had led to the suppression of both the religious order of Gregory’s teacher degli Angeli, and Gregory’s books at Venice, in the late 1660s. (shrink)
Cauchy's sum theorem is a prototype of what is today a basic result on the convergence of a series of functions in undergraduate analysis. We seek to interpret Cauchy’s proof, and discuss the related epistemological questions involved in comparing distinct interpretive paradigms. Cauchy’s proof is often interpreted in the modern framework of a Weierstrassian paradigm. We analyze Cauchy’s proof closely and show that it finds closer proxies in a different modern framework.