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Rose Simmons


MS 351


Final Project

Being the 17th century critic that I am, Descartes from the start inserts arithmetic into

the geometric world. It does not make sense to use arithmetic in geometry because geometry

is used to prove mathematic concepts. However, he does relate arithmetic terms to geometry

thus geometry is being used to prove his arithmetic. The issue here is he continues to say that

he introduced the arithmetical terminology to make the geometry clearer.

Descartes examples of how the arithmetical terms are used in geometry are done in

away that leads to a line multiplied by another line equaling a longer line. This is bizarre. A

line times a line should equal a square. He continues to disregard the concepts of the ancient

Greek Mathematicians by telling us that “it is not necessary thus to draw the lines on paper”

(Descartes). How absurd! How can one know if what you are proving is true if it is not

written down for all to see? Furthermore, Descartes inserts our geometric terms of square and

cube to mean something completely different in his algebra work.

One redeeming quality in the work of Descartes is his ability to try and keep

homogeneity alive in structure of his work. His concept of unity – however farfetched it is –

attempts to keep homogeneity in his math.

Why does Descartes not just draw a picture? He wants mathematicians to keep a list

of their unity and labels for each of the lines within the problem. Would it not be simpler to

just draw a picture? It could even be labeled.

Descartes wants to be able to look at a problem and have an idea of the solution

before even starting the problem. This reminds me of the work done by Viète. They both
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seem to want to systematize problems into general solutions. Because Viète holds a place in

our Mathematical world, Descartes might as well.

Being the 21st century mathematics student that I am, Descartes shows lingering signs

of earlier eras. One of them is declaring he is going to impose the arithmetical terms into

geometry. This is outdated for us because we use them interchangeably. If one looks at a

graph, it is possible to add, subtract, multiply, and divide lines and line segments.

Descartes also shows heavy influence of geometry in his explanation of using

arithmetical terminology in his work with lines. Granted a line is part of geometry. While he

is explaining how to operate on the lines, he specifies how it would look geometrically

instead of using arbitrary letters. When he does move into labeling in a more arbitrary way, it

is still referenced to lines instead of problems in general.

Descartes’ concepts are so close to how we use math today, but his concept of root

extraction is stuck in a geometric way. He has a specific formula worked out for how

squared and cubed roots look; whereas, today mathematicians can take roots of any number

and it will have meaning.

The concept of classifying problems based on their solution has been a thread

throughout the history of mathematics. In order to understand operations, mathematicians

seem to have a need to classify problems based on their predicted outcome to explain the

process. Descartes was no exception. He worked along with Viète to classify problems to

determine their solution beforehand. Presently, problems are “classified” to understand how

to do the problem. Currently, there are steps and guides in place to compute a problem

arithmetically instead of having an idea of the solution based the type of problem it is.

Descartes is thought of as the first modern mathematician. There are people in other

fields of study who are also thought of as the first modern person. For example, in poetry the

first modern poet is T.E. Hulme in England in 1908 (Tearle). Hulme is thought of as the first
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modern poet because he wrote on the back of bill about everyday life and was brief (Tearle).

He has a counter part in the United States who introduced similar style five years, Ezra Pound

(Tearle). Pound and Richard Aldington set rules for the modern poetry set up by T.E. Hulme

(Tearle). Since Pound and Aldington set the rules, Hulme is thus the first modern poet.

Another field of study to look at is art. In art, the first modern artist is Édouard

Manet. Manet did things differently by questioning to accepted norms for paintings (Israel).

The norms being featuring a lofty theme and historical figures, and a scene with a classical

perspective (Israel). Manet rejected historical imagery and used a contemporary scene

(Israel). Manet worked to create a new style of art. Critics said he lack depth in some of his

paintings, but his painting changed people’s conception of how a painting could include

(Israel). Therefore, Manet would be the first modern artist.

A third field to look at is science because there are connections to math. In science,

the first modern scientist is debated one site said Galileo while another site said Grosseteste.

Galileo did things innovatively by putting practices of other together in his work (Ingraham).

It is more likely that Grosseteste is the first modern scientist because Grosseteste was rooted

in the Aristotle traditions, but he came up with and is credited for the scientific method. He

wrote books on the formal structure of his work (Charles Scribner’s Sons). Because

Grosseteste worked on finalizing his method, he is credited with the being the first modern


Descartes is not the only first modern person in a field of study. Every field has their

first modern person. Three I have discussed here are only a few examples. There are some

discrepancies between the first for some subject areas, but the way the world changes so

quickly that people can think of similar things or work on similar projects at the same time.
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Works Cited

Charles Scribner's Sons. “Grosseteste, Robert.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography,, 2008,


Ingraham, Paul. “Galileo, the first modern scientist.” Writerly, 28 Dec. 2011,

Israel, Matthew. “The Story of the World's First Work of Modern Art.” Artsy,, 6 Feb.


Tearle, Oliver. “T. E. Hulme: The First Modern Poet?” The Huffington Post,, 21 Mar. 2014,