Jonah Dutz (Author)

Schlimm, Dirk (Author)

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

Volume: 88

Pages: 92-101

The design of good notation is a cause that was dear to Charles Babbage’s heart throughout his career. He was convinced of the “immense power of signs” (1864, 364), both to rigorously express complex ideas and to facilitate the discovery of new ones. As a young man, he promoted the Leibnizian notation for the calculus in England, and later he developed a Mechanical Notation for designing his computational engines. In addition, he reflected on the principles that underlie the design of good mathematical notations. In this paper, we discuss these reflections, which can be found somewhat scattered in Babbage’s writings, for the first time in a systematic way. Babbage’s desiderata for mathematical notations are presented as ten guidelines pertinent to notational design and its application to both individual symbols and complex expressions. To illustrate the applicability of these guidelines in non-mathematical domains, some aspects of his Mechanical Notation are also discussed.

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