Learning outcomes of the course unit
Knowledge and ability to understand: through the lectures held during the course, the student will acquire the methods and knowledge necessary to analyze a mathematical theory from a historical and foundational point of view, to contextualize it, to compare it with other theories of other historical periods or with different objectives and problems. In particular, he will learn some methods to deal with problems of a practical and theoretical nature, ancient and modern axiomatic constructions, different roles of mathematical formalization, heuristic methods that anticipate theorization, the dynamics of crisis and revolution that have evolved mathematics. The student will learn the structure of some great works of organic arrangement of knowledge in a unitary corpus (eg Elements of Euclid).
Ability to apply knowledge and understanding:
During the lessons there are times when students apply the knowledge acquired in problems, constructions and demonstrations. In particular, the student must: apply the ancient methods; perform rigorous constructions and demonstrations, explaining the criteria and principles; compare the methods used in different areas of mathematics.
Autonomy of judgment:
The student must be able to understand and critically evaluate the essential points of a method or a theory, to construct and develop logical arguments with a clear identification of assumptions and conclusions. It will also have to use the acquired knowledge to critically analyze textbooks, documents and manuals recognizing correct demonstrations and identifying fallacious and / or inconsistent reasoning from an historical-epistemological point of view.
Through the lectures and working both independently and in groups, the student acquires the specific vocabulary of several ancient and modern mathematical theories and the ability to make connections and comparisons, either by building longitudinal analyzes on the same topic, or by comparing two different approaches to the same problem. It is expected that, at the end of the course, the student will be able to communicate problems, ideas and solutions concerning the course topics both to a specialized audience and to an audience not specialized in oral form.
Students who have attended the course will be able to deepen their knowledge on the history and foundations of mathematics in an autonomous way, through the consultation of specialized texts and scientific or popular magazines, carry out insights from a historical and / or educational perspective. to undertake further training courses in the area of the foundations, history and teaching of Mathematics.
There are no compulsory prerequisites.
Course contents summary
Testo in Inglese
The course aims to provide students with the general criteria of analysis of a mathematical theory in its historical development and in its foundational aspects, with attention to the different criteria of rigor, to the methods and the role of intuition, constructions, formalism and contamination with other disciplines in some crucial phases of its historical development.
Therefore the contents proposed during the course of the lessons concern: in the first part of the course, Egyptian mathematics, Babylonian, Indian and pre-Hellenic Arabic, the Elements of Euclid, some works by Archimedes and Apollonius, the classical problems of Antiquity, Menelaus and pappus theorem in different geometries from the Euclidean one; in the second part of the course some basic passages are presented towards modern approaches to mathematics, with particular attention to non-Euclidean geometries, the passage to symbolic algebra and Cartesian geometry, the development of methods and the problem of the foundations of Analysis, the projective geometry, Klein's program, Hilbert's Grundlagen, Gödel's theorems.
CHAP 1: METHODS, FUNDAMENTALS AND THEORIES OF ANCIENT MATHEMATICS
The mathematics of the Egyptians and the Babylonians.
Greek mathematics: Thales, Pythagoras and his school, the crisis of the immeasurable. Zeno and the paradoxes of the infinite.
The three classical problems of Greek antiquity: quadrature of the circle, duplication of the cube, trisection of the angle and history of the solutions. Hippocrates and the quadrature of the lunulas.
Euclid: the "Elements", common notions, postulates and axioms, theory of parallels, theory of proportions, sizes, prime numbers, equivalence in the plane and in space. Euclid's work in the light of modern criticism. Archimedes: from the measurement of the circle to the volume of the sphere, the method of exhaustion. Apollonius: conic sections.
CHAP 2: METHODS, FUNDAMENTALS AND THEORIES OF MODERN MATHEMATICS
Algebraic approach to the Greek classical problems.
The birth of the concepts of limit, function, derivative, integral and the development of the Calculus. Numerical systems and properties in a historical perspective and axiomatizations: natural numbers, integers, rational numbers, reals. Different notions of completeness.
Cantor and infinite: cardinal and ordinal, ingenuous theory of the sets. Peano’s axioms and arithmetics as a theory.
Non-Euclidean geometries: historical and epistemological aspects, the issues of the fifth postulate, Saccheri’s work, Poincaré’s disk as a model. Circular inversion.
The Erlangen program and the geometry of transformations: isometrics, similitudes, affinity, projectivity. Circular inversion.
Introduction to Projective geometry.
The problem of the foundations of Geometry: Hilbert's axioms, independence, consistency, completeness.
Dialectic between intuition and formalism in the evolution of mathematical analysis and modern axiomatics. Hilbert's problems.
Finite models: Fano’s plane, affine spaces and other examples.
The slides projected during the course in PDF format and all the material used during the lessons (translations of ancient works in digital format, extracts from thesis, notes with detailed demonstrations for further information) are made available to students and shared on the Elly platform at the end of each lesson.
In addition, students have access to a PDF online version of Euclid’s Elements, translated by Richard Fitzpatrick (2007) available online at: http://farside.ph.utexas.edu/Books/Euclid/Elements.pdf
In addition to the material provided by the teacher, which comprehensively covers all the contents of the course, students with an interest in the historical aspects can deepen on the manuals:
Kline, M. (1972) Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times, Vol. 1-2-3
Available online at:
C.B.Boyer, Uta C. Merzbach (2011) , A history of mathematics, ISBN: 978-0-470-52548-7
The course has a weight of 9 CFU, which corresponds to 72 hours of lessons. The teaching activities will be conducted by giving lectures in the classroom, alternating with moments of work in groups. During the lectures, the topics of the course are dealt with from a theoretical point of view and with detailed examples of demonstrations, constructions and problem solving, with some lecture lessons in which they also propose critical readings of historians and philosophers of mathematics or parts of original works. In addition to the teaching methods presented so far, in-depth seminars are organized on the topics of the course. The slides and documents used to support the lessons will be uploaded at the beginning of the course on the Elly platform; To download the slides it is necessary to register for the online course. All shared material is considered an integral part of the teaching material. Non-attending students are reminded to check the available teaching materials and the indications provided by the teacher through the Elly platform, the only communication tool used for direct teacher / student contact. On this platform, on a weekly basis, the topics discussed in class are indicated, which will then form the contents index in preparation for the final exam.
Assessment methods and criteria
The assessment will take place on the basis of an oral test, with questions related to the contents of the course; some questions are asked concerning ancient mathematics and some related to modern mathematics. The questions are initially related to transversal issues to be treated longitudinally by the candidate; with this first type of questions we evaluate the communication skills and the ability to make use of the precise knowledge to build a broad and comprehensive overview on a macro-theme. Afterwards we go to deepen a single aspect asking to produce a demonstration, a resolution of a problem, a construction. Three general questions are asked to the candidate with relative details. Each question corresponds to 10 points. The test is passed if it reaches a score of at least 18 points. Praise is awarded only if the candidate shows autonomy of judgment and communication skills rather than good.