Proofs, pictures, and Euclid

Synthese 175 (2):255 - 287 (2010)
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Though pictures are often used to present mathematical arguments, they are not typically thought to be an acceptable means for presenting mathematical arguments rigorously. With respect to the proofs in the Elements in particular, the received view is that Euclid's reliance on geometric diagrams undermines his efforts to develop a gap-free deductive theory. The central difficulty concerns the generality of the theory. How can inferences made from a particular diagrams license general mathematical results? After surveying the history behind the received view, this essay provides a contrary analysis by introducing a formal account of Euclid's proofs, termed Eu. Eu solves the puzzle of generality surrounding Euclid's arguments. It specifies what diagrams Euclid's diagrams are, in a precise formal sense, and defines generality-preserving proof rules in terms of them. After the central principles behind the formalization are laid out, its implications with respect to the question of what does and does not constitute a genuine picture proof are explored



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John Mumma
California State University, San Bernardino

References found in this work

The Shaping of Deduction in Greek Mathematics: A Study in Cognitive History.Reviel Netz - 1999 - Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
The Euclidean Diagram.Kenneth Manders - 2008 - In Paolo Mancosu (ed.), The Philosophy of Mathematical Practice. Oxford University Press. pp. 80--133.
Logical reasoning with diagrams.Gerard Allwein & Jon Barwise (eds.) - 1996 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Why Do We Prove Theorems?Yehuda Rav - 1999 - Philosophia Mathematica 7 (1):5-41.

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