Article ID: CBB001320192

A Natural History of Mathematics: George Peacock and the Making of English Algebra (2013)


In a series of papers read to the Cambridge Philosophical Society through the 1820s, the Cambridge mathematician George Peacock laid the foundation for a natural history of arithmetic that would tell a story of human progress from counting to modern arithmetic. The trajectory of that history, Peacock argued, established algebraic analysis as a form of universal reasoning that used empirically warranted operations of mind to think with symbols on paper. The science of counting would suggest arithmetic, arithmetic would suggest arithmetical algebra, and, finally, arithmetical algebra would suggest symbolic algebra. This philosophy of suggestion provided the foundation for Peacock's principle of equivalent forms, which justified the practice of nineteenth-century English symbolic algebra. Peacock's philosophy of suggestion owed a considerable debt to the early Cambridge Philosophical Society culture of natural history. The aim of this essay is to show how that culture of natural history was constitutively significant to the practice of nineteenth-century English algebra.

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Authors & Contributors
Gray, Jeremy
Boucard, Jenny
Panza, Marco
Verburgt, Lukas M.
Durand, Marie-José
Radu, Mircea
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Historia Mathematica
British Society for the History of Mathematics Bulletin
Physis: Rivista Internazionale di Storia della Scienza
Indian Journal of History of Science
American Mathematical Society
Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin
Philosophy of mathematics
Number theory; number concept
Science and culture
Peacock, George
Gregory, Duncan Farquharson
Babbage, Charles
Noether, Emmy
Cauchy, Augustin Louis
Lagrange, Joseph Louis
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
18th century
20th century
17th century
Edo Era (Japan, 1603-1868)
British Isles
Great Britain
University of Chicago
Cambridge University

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