Ancient Greek Philosophy and Mathematics

A classic painting from the 5th century shows men dressed in togas gathered on the steps together. Two red horizontal lines run parallel across the image and are intersected by a vertical red line.

Raphael's painting The School of Athens, created between 1509 and 1511. Raphael made use of the concept of golden ratios, as evidenced by the red lines which define key elements of the composition. (Image courtesy of Gary B. Meisner, Copyright 2001–2016.)


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Spring 2016



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Course Description

This course explores the relationship between ancient Greek philosophy and mathematics. We investigate how ideas of definition, reason, argument and proof, rationality / irrationality, number, quality and quantity, truth, and even the idea of an idea were shaped by the interplay of philosophic and mathematical inquiry. The course examines how discovery of the incommensurability of magnitudes challenged the Greek presumption that the cosmos is fully understandable. Students explore the influence of mathematics on ancient Greek ethical theories. We read such authors as: Euclid, Plato, Aristotle, Nicomachus, Theon of Smyrna, Bacon, Descartes, Dedekind, and Newton.

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Lee Perlman. ES.113 Ancient Greek Philosophy and Mathematics. Spring 2016. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

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