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Equations from God

Pure Mathematics and Victorian Faith

Daniel J. Cohen

Publication Year: 2007

Throughout history, application rather than abstraction has been the prominent driving force in mathematics. From the compass and sextant to partial differential equations, mathematical advances were spurred by the desire for better navigation tools, weaponry, and construction methods. But the religious upheaval in Victorian England and the fledgling United States opened the way for the rediscovery of pure mathematics, a tradition rooted in Ancient Greece. In Equations from God, Daniel J. Cohen captures the origins of the rebirth of abstract mathematics in the intellectual quest to rise above common existence and touch the mind of the deity. Using an array of published and private sources, Cohen shows how philosophers and mathematicians seized upon the beautiful simplicity inherent in mathematical laws to reconnect with the divine and traces the route by which the divinely inspired mathematics of the Victorian era begot later secular philosophies.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Contents

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pp. vii-

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

A welcome side effect of pursuing the history of ideas is that it makes you acutely aware of your own intellectual indebtedness. I have been blessed with a string of outstanding advisors and mentors: John Williams and Donald Burke at Weston High School in Weston, Massachusetts; Gerald Geison at Princeton; ...

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INTRODUCTION: The Allure of Pure Mathematics in the Victorian Age

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pp. 1-13

On September 23, 1846, the Berlin astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle scanned the night sky with a telescope and found what he was looking for—the faint light of the planet Neptune. Excitement about the discovery of an eighth planet quickly spread across Europe and America, generating a wave of effusive front-page headlines. ...

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CHAPTER ONE: Heavenly Symbols: Sources of Victorian Mathematical Idealism

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pp. 14-41

Victorian intellectuals seeking philosophical support for a grand characterization of mathematics did not have to look far afield. One ally was the prominent contemporary philosopher William Whewell (1794–1866), the master of Trinity College, Cambridge, in the 1840s and 1850s.1 ...

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CHAPTER TWO: God and Math at Harvard: Benjamin Peirce and the Divinity of Mathematics

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pp. 42-76

The Victorian congruence of pure mathematics and religious idealism found its greatest advocate in perhaps the most prominent American mathematician of the nineteenth century: Benjamin Peirce. Peirce, generally known today only as the father of Charles Sanders Peirce, the seminal philosopher of Pragmatism, ...

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CHAPTER THREE: George Boole and the Genesis of Symbolic Logic

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pp. 77-105

George Boole had a revelation at the age of seventeen that changed both his life and the course of Western philosophy. He spoke in spiritual and mystical terms about the insight gained in this epiphany, which forever separated modern logic from the logic of Aristotle and the Scholastics. ...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Augustus De Morgan and the Logic of Relations

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pp. 106-136

An insignia designed by Augustus De Morgan for the nascent London Mathematical Society perhaps typifies the ecumenism of pure mathematicians in the Victorian age better than George Boole’s poetry or Benjamin Peirce’s prose. De Morgan inscribed a symmetric figure of concentric arcs and triangles with the name of the organization, ...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Earthly Calculations:Mathematics and Professionalism in the Late Nineteenth Century

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pp. 137-182

Augustus De Morgan’s determination that mathematics should separate itself from other realms of Victorian intellectual life, although shrewd, was not a self-fulfilling prophecy. To achieve this distinction required an aggressive promotion of the new isolationist ideal within mathematical circles as well as in the public sphere. ...

Notes

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pp. 183-214

Bibliography

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pp. 215-234

Index

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pp. 235-242


E-ISBN-13: 9780801891861
E-ISBN-10: 0801891868
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801885532
Print-ISBN-10: 0801885531

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Mathematics
Series Editor Byline: Ronald Calinger, Series Editor