In 1655, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes claimed he had solved the centuries-old problem of squaring of the circle (constructing a square equal in area to a given circle). With a scathing rebuttal to Hobbes's claims, the mathematician John Wallis began one of the longest and most intense intellectual disputes of all time.Squaring the Circleis a detailed account of this controversy, from the core mathematics to the broader philosophical, political, and religious issues at stake.
Hobbes believed that by recasting geometry in a materialist mold, he could solve any geometric problem and thereby demonstrate the power of his materialist metaphysics. Wallis, a prominent Presbyterian divine as well as an eminent mathematician, refuted Hobbes's geometry as a means of discrediting his philosophy, which Wallis saw as a dangerous mix of atheism and pernicious political theory.
Hobbes and Wallis's battle of the books illuminates the intimate relationship between science and crucial seventeenth-century debates over the limits of sovereign power and the existence of God.
List of Abbreviations
Chapter One: The Mathematical Career of the Monster of Malmesbury
Chapter Two: The Reform of Mathematics and of the Universities
Ideological Origins of the Dispute
Chapter Three:De Corporeand the Mathematics of Materialism
Chapter Four: Disputed Foundations
Hobbes vs. Wallis on the Philosophy of Mathematics
Chapter Five: The Modern Analytics and the Nature of Demonstration
Chapter Six: The Demise of Hobbesian Geometry
Chapter Seven: The Religion, Rhetoric, and Politics of Mr. Hobbes and Dr. Wallis
Chapter Eight: Persistence in Error
Why Was Hobbes So Resolutely Wrong?
Appendix: Selections from Hobbes's Mathematical Writings