Article ID: CBB373036205

Moral improvement through mathematics: Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole’s Nouveaux éléments de géométrie (2021)


This paper examines the ethical and religious dimensions of mathematical practice in the early modern era by offering an interpretation of Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole’s Nouveaux éléments de géométrie (1667). According to these important figures of seventeenth-century French philosophy and theology, mathematics could achieve extra-mathematical or non-mathematical goals; that is, mathematics could foster practices of moral self-improvement, deepen the mathematician’s piety and cultivate epistemic virtues. The Nouveaux éléments de géométrie, which I contend offers the most robust account of the virtues cultivated by mathematics in the period, was envisaged by its authors to cultivate moral, Christian and epistemic virtues that could serve in the fulfilment of moral and Christian obligations. In this paper, I set out the goals of mathematical inquiry for the Port-Royalists and describe the specific virtues they believed a revised edition of the Elements of Euclid could foster. I show that Arnauld and Nicole believed that an acquaintance with mathematics could render a student of Euclid more just, truth-loving, attentive and humble, and better able to discern truth from falsity.

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Authors & Contributors
Apgar, David
Nicole, Pierre
Arnauld, Antoine
Descotes, Dominique
Delgado-Moreira, Raquel
Jullien, Vincent
Historia Mathematica
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Synthesis: The [Harvard] University Journal in the History and Philosophy of Science
Historical Research: The Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research
Journal Electronique d'Histoire des Probabilités et de la Statistique
Journal of the History of Ideas
Cambridge University Press
Pennsylvania State University Press
Edizioni Studium
Reaktion Books
Oxford University Press
Science and religion
Philosophy of mathematics
Arnauld, Antoine
Nicole, Pierre
Pascal, Blaise
Newton, Isaac
Descartes, René
Roberval, Gilles Personne de
Time Periods
17th century
18th century
20th century
21st century
20th century, early
19th century
Great Britain
United States

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