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)
We analyze the developments in mathematical rigor from the viewpoint of a Burgessian critique of nominalistic reconstructions. We apply such a critique to the reconstruction of infinitesimal analysis accomplished through the efforts of Cantor, Dedekind, and Weierstrass; to the reconstruction of Cauchy’s foundational work associated with the work of Boyer and Grabiner; and to Bishop’s constructivist reconstruction of classical analysis. We examine the effects of a nominalist disposition on historiography, teaching, and research.
One of the most influential scientific treatises in Cauchy's era was J.-L. Lagrange's Mécanique Analytique, the second edition of which came out in 1811, when Cauchy was barely out of his teens. Lagrange opens his treatise with an unequivocal endorsement of infinitesimals. Referring to the system of infinitesimal calculus, Lagrange writes:Lorsqu'on a bien conçu l'esprit de ce système, et qu'on s'est convaincu de l'exactitude de ses résultats par la méthode géométrique des premières et dernières raisons, ou par la méthode analytique (...) des fonctions dérivées, on peut employer les infiniment petits comme un instrument sûr et commode pour abréger et simplifier les demonstrations.Lagrange's renewed enthusiasm for .. (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)
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)
Abraham Robinson’s framework for modern infinitesimals was developed half a century ago. It enables a re-evaluation of the procedures of the pioneers of mathematical analysis. Their procedures have been often viewed through the lens of the success of the Weierstrassian foundations. We propose a view without passing through the lens, by means of proxies for such procedures in the modern theory of infinitesimals. The real accomplishments of calculus and analysis had been based primarily on the elaboration of novel techniques for (...) solving problems rather than a quest for ultimate foundations. It may be hopeless to interpret historical foundations in terms of a punctiform continuum, but arguably it is possible to interpret historical techniques and procedures in terms of modern ones. Our proposed formalisations do not mean that Fermat, Gregory, Leibniz, Euler, and Cauchy were pre-Robinsonians, but rather indicate that Robinson’s framework is more helpful in understanding their procedures than a Weierstrassian framework. (shrink)
The small, the tiny, and the infinitesimal have been the object of both fascination and vilification for millenia. One of the most vitriolic reviews in mathematics was that written by Errett Bishop about Keisler’s book Elementary Calculus: an Infinitesimal Approach. In this skit we investigate both the argument itself, and some of its roots in Bishop George Berkeley’s criticism of Leibnizian and Newtonian Calculus. We also explore some of the consequences to students for whom the infinitesimal approach is congenial. The (...) casual mathematical reader may be satisfied to read the text of the five act play, whereas the others may wish to delve into the 130 footnotes, some of which contain elucidation of the mathematics or comments on the history. (shrink)
To explore the extent of embeddability of Leibnizian infinitesimal calculus in first-order logic (FOL) and modern frameworks, we propose to set aside ontological issues and focus on pro- cedural questions. This would enable an account of Leibnizian procedures in a framework limited to FOL with a small number of additional ingredients such as the relation of infinite proximity. If, as we argue here, first order logic is indeed suitable for developing modern proxies for the inferential moves found in Leibnizian infinitesimal (...) calculus, then modern infinitesimal frameworks are more appropriate to interpreting Leibnizian infinitesimal calculus than modern Weierstrassian ones. (shrink)
We apply a framework developed by C. S. Peirce to analyze the concept of clarity, so as to examine a pair of rival mathematical approaches to a typical result in analysis. Namely, we compare an intuitionist and an infinitesimal approaches to the extreme value theorem. We argue that a given pre-mathematical phenomenon may have several aspects that are not necessarily captured by a single formalisation, pointing to a complementarity rather than a rivalry of the approaches.
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.