“An Excellent Practice”: The Ambitions of Early Modern Mathematicians
The early modern period was an era of staggering mathematical transformation. This talk examines the ambitions and achievements of early modern French mathematicians. By considering the mathematical and philosophical outputs of Descartes, Fermat, Pascal, Leibniz, and Arnauld, the talk provides an overview of the various goals of mathematical inquiry in seventeenth-century France. I argue that Descartes, Pascal and, to some extent, Leibniz are mistaken examples of the view that the mathematical developments achieved by these practitioners were pursued for their moral and epistemic lessons. Instead, I argue that Antoine Arnauld’s Nouveaux éléments de géométrie constitutes a better example of the use of mathematics to serve propaedeutic goals.