Analytical symbols and geometrical figures in eighteenth-century calculus

Leibnizian-Newtonian calculus was a theory that dealt with geometrical objects; the figure continued to play one of the fundamental roles it had played in Greek geometry: it susbstituted a part of reasoning. During the eighteenth century a process of de-geometrization of calculus took place, which consisted in the rejection of the use of diagrams and in considering calculus as an 'intellectual' system where deduction was merely linguistic and mediated. This was achieved by interpreting variables as universal quantities and introducing the notion of function, which replaced the study of curves. However, the emancipation of calculus from its basis in geometry was not comprehensive. In fact, the geometrical properties of curves were attributed de facto to functions and thus eighteenth-century calculus continued implicitly to use principles borrowed from geometry. There was therefore no transition to a purely syntactical theory based on axiomatically introduced terms, a shift which only took place subsequently in modern times
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DOI 10.1016/S0039-3681(01)00009-7
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