Galois and the simple group of order 60

Archive for History of Exact Sciences 78 (1):1-28 (2024)
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Abstract

In his testamentary letter to Auguste Chevalier, Évariste Galois states that, in modern terminology, the smallest simple group has order 60. No proof of this statement survives in his papers, and it has been suggested that a proof would have been impossible using the methods available at the time. We argue that this assertion is unduly pessimistic. Moreover, one fragmentary document, dismissed as a triviality and misunderstood, looks suspiciously like cryptic notes related to this result. We give an elementary proof of Galois’s statement, explain why it is likely that he would have been aware of the methods involved, and discuss the potential relevance of the fragment.

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