College of Arts and Sciences


  • Scholar Jeff Oaks Presents on the Changing Notion of ‘Number’ in Pre-modern Mathematics

    December 6, 2011

    Professor Jeff Oaks presents “The Changing Notion of ‘Number’ in Pre-modern Mathematics: A Missing Link between Diophantus’ and Vieta’s Concept of ‘Number’” at 4 p.m. on January 10 in Wyckoff Auditorium. Oaks chairs the Department of Mathematics at the University of Indianapolis.

    In his lecture, Oaks will consider the very notion of “number,” regarded by the Greeks as a multitude of units. Such a conception precludes irrational numbers. The way Arabic algebraists calculated with irrational square roots shows that while they accepted these roots as numbers, they still respected the notion of “multitude” when expressing polynomials. This treatment of irrationals in arithmetic and algebra was passed on to medieval Europe, and it was only in the 16th century that polynomials began to take on a more modern character.

    It is in the context of this historical development that Oaks offers a commentary on the account by philosopher and historian of mathematics Jacob Klein on the ancient and modern “number,” particularly his view of the work of François Vieta.

    This presentation is sponsored by the Departments of Philosophy and Physics, with generous support from the Colleges of Science and Engineering and Arts and Sciences, the Department of Mathematics, and the Arts and Sciences Pigott-McCone Chair.

    The College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college in Seattle University, offers 33 undergraduate and 7 advanced degrees.


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