# La Géométrie

Last updated

## Contents

La Géométrie was published in 1637 as an appendix to Discours de la méthode ( Discourse on the Method ), written by René Descartes. In the Discourse, he presents his method for obtaining clarity on any subject. La Géométrie and two other appendices, also by Descartes, La Dioptrique (Optics) and Les Météores (Meteorology), were published with the Discourse to give examples of the kinds of successes he had achieved following his method [1] (as well as, perhaps, considering the contemporary European social climate of intellectual competitiveness, to show off a bit to a wider audience).

The work was the first to propose the idea of uniting algebra and geometry into a single subject [2] and invented an algebraic geometry called analytic geometry, which involves reducing geometry to a form of arithmetic and algebra and translating geometric shapes into algebraic equations. For its time this was ground-breaking. It also contributed to the mathematical ideas of Leibniz and Newton and was thus important in the development of calculus.

## The text

This appendix is divided into three "books". [3]

Book I is titled Problems Which Can Be Constructed by Means of Circles and Straight Lines Only. In this book he introduces algebraic notation that is still in use today. The letters at the end of the alphabet, viz., x, y, z, etc. are to denote unknown variables, while those at the start of the alphabet, a, b, c, etc. denote constants. He introduces modern exponential notation for powers (except for squares, where he kept the older tradition of writing repeated letters, such as, aa). He also breaks with the Greek tradition of associating powers with geometric referents, a2 with an area, a3 with a volume and so on, and treats them all as possible lengths of line segments. These notational devices permit him to describe an association of numbers to lengths of line segments that could be constructed with straightedge and compass. The bulk of the remainder of this book is occupied by Descartes's solution to "the locus problems of Pappus." [4] According to Pappus, given three or four lines in a plane, the problem is to find the locus of a point that moves so that the product of the distances from two of the fixed lines (along specified directions) is proportional to the square of the distance to the third line (in the three line case) or proportional to the product of the distances to the other two lines (in the four line case). In solving these problems and their generalizations, Descartes takes two line segments as unknown and designates them x and y. Known line segments are designated a, b, c, etc. The germinal idea of a Cartesian coordinate system can be traced back to this work.

In the second book, called On the Nature of Curved Lines, Descartes described two kinds of curves, called by him geometrical and mechanical. Geometrical curves are those which are now described by algebraic equations in two variables, however, Descartes described them kinematically and an essential feature was that all of their points could be obtained by construction from lower order curves. This represented an expansion beyond what was permitted by straightedge and compass constructions. [5] Other curves like the quadratrix and spiral, where only some of whose points could be constructed, were termed mechanical and were not considered suitable for mathematical study. Descartes also devised an algebraic method for finding the normal at any point of a curve whose equation is known. The construction of the tangents to the curve then easily follows and Descartes applied this algebraic procedure for finding tangents to several curves.

The third book, On the Construction of Solid and Supersolid Problems, is more properly algebraic than geometric and concerns the nature of equations and how they may be solved. He recommends that all terms of an equation be placed on one side and set equal to 0 to facilitate solution. He points out the factor theorem for polynomials and gives an intuitive proof that a polynomial of degree n has n roots. He systematically discussed negative and imaginary roots [6] of equations and explicitly used what is now known as Descartes' rule of signs.

## Aftermath

Descartes wrote La Géométrie in French rather than the language used for most scholarly publication at the time, Latin. His exposition style was far from clear, the material was not arranged in a systematic manner and he generally only gave indications of proofs, leaving many of the details to the reader. [7] His attitude toward writing is indicated by statements such as "I did not undertake to say everything," or "It already wearies me to write so much about it," that occur frequently. Descartes justifies his omissions and obscurities with the remark that much was deliberately omitted "in order to give others the pleasure of discovering [it] for themselves."

Descartes is often credited with inventing the coordinate plane because he had the relevant concepts in his book, [8] however, nowhere in La Géométrie does the modern rectangular coordinate system appear. This and other improvements were added by mathematicians who took it upon themselves to clarify and explain Descartes' work.

This enhancement of Descartes' work was primarily carried out by Frans van Schooten, a professor of mathematics at Leiden and his students. Van Schooten published a Latin version of La Géométrie in 1649 and this was followed by three other editions in 1659−1661, 1683 and 1693. The 1659−1661 edition was a two volume work more than twice the length of the original filled with explanations and examples provided by van Schooten and this students. One of these students, Johannes Hudde provided a convenient method for determining double roots of a polynomial, known as Hudde's rule, that had been a difficult procedure in Descartes's method of tangents. These editions established analytic geometry in the seventeenth century. [9]

## Notes

1. Descartes 2006 , p. 1x
2. Descartes 2006 , p.1xiii "This short work marks the moment at which algebra and geometry ceased being separate."
3. this section follows Burton 2011 , pp. 367-375
4. Pappus discussed the problems in his commentary on the Conics of Apollonius.
5. Boyer 2004 , pp. 88-89
6. he was one of the first to use this term
7. Boyer 2004 , pp. 103-104
8. A. D. Aleksandrov; Andréi Nikoláevich Kolmogórov; M. A. Lavrent'ev (1999). "§2: Descartes' two fundamental concepts". Mathematics, its content, methods, and meaning (Reprint of MIT Press 1963 ed.). Courier Dover Publications. pp. 184 ff. ISBN   0-486-40916-3.
9. Boyer 2004 , pp. 108-109

## Related Research Articles

Algebraic geometry is a branch of mathematics, classically studying zeros of multivariate polynomials. Modern algebraic geometry is based on the use of abstract algebraic techniques, mainly from commutative algebra, for solving geometrical problems about these sets of zeros.

In classical mathematics, analytic geometry, also known as coordinate geometry or Cartesian geometry, is the study of geometry using a coordinate system. This contrasts with synthetic geometry.

In geometry and algebra, a real number is constructible if and only if, given a line segment of unit length, a line segment of length can be constructed with compass and straightedge in a finite number of steps. Equivalently, is constructible if and only if there is a closed-form expression for using only the integers 0 and 1 and the operations for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and square roots.

René Descartes was a French-born philosopher, mathematician, and scientist who spent a large portion of his working life in the Dutch Republic, initially serving the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. One of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age, Descartes is also widely regarded as one of the founders of modern philosophy.

In geometry, the tangent line to a plane curve at a given point is the straight line that "just touches" the curve at that point. Leibniz defined it as the line through a pair of infinitely close points on the curve. More precisely, a straight line is said to be a tangent of a curve y = f(x) at a point x = c if the line passes through the point (c, f ) on the curve and has slope f'(c), where f' is the derivative of f. A similar definition applies to space curves and curves in n-dimensional Euclidean space.

Straightedge and compass construction, also known as ruler-and-compass construction or classical construction, is the construction of lengths, angles, and other geometric figures using only an idealized ruler and a pair of compasses.

Franciscus van Schooten was a Dutch mathematician who is most known for popularizing the analytic geometry of René Descartes.

In mathematics, a curve is an object similar to a line, but that does not have to be straight.

Doubling the cube, also known as the Delian problem, is an ancient geometric problem. Given the edge of a cube, the problem requires the construction of the edge of a second cube whose volume is double that of the first. As with the related problems of squaring the circle and trisecting the angle, doubling the cube is now known to be impossible using only a compass and straightedge, but even in ancient times solutions were known that employed other tools.

Apollonius of Perga was an Ancient Greek geometer and astronomer known for his work on conic sections. Beginning from the contributions of Euclid and Archimedes on the topic, he brought them to the state prior to the invention of analytic geometry. His definitions of the terms ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola are the ones in use today.

François Viète, Seigneur de la Bigotière was a French mathematician whose work on new algebra was an important step towards modern algebra, due to its innovative use of letters as parameters in equations. He was a lawyer by trade, and served as a privy councillor to both Henry III and Henry IV of France.

JohannesHudde was a burgomaster (mayor) of Amsterdam between 1672 – 1703, a mathematician and governor of the Dutch East India Company.

In Euclidean plane geometry, Apollonius's problem is to construct circles that are tangent to three given circles in a plane (Figure 1). Apollonius of Perga posed and solved this famous problem in his work Ἐπαφαί ; this work has been lost, but a 4th-century AD report of his results by Pappus of Alexandria has survived. Three given circles generically have eight different circles that are tangent to them (Figure 2), a pair of solutions for each way to divide the three given circles in two subsets.

Algebra can essentially be considered as doing computations similar to those of arithmetic but with non-numerical mathematical objects. However, until the 19th century, algebra consisted essentially of the theory of equations. For example, the fundamental theorem of algebra belongs to the theory of equations and is not, nowadays, considered as belonging to algebra.

Derek Thomas "Tom" Whiteside FBA was a British historian of mathematics.

Algebra is one of the broad parts of mathematics, together with number theory, geometry and analysis. In its most general form, algebra is the study of mathematical symbols and the rules for manipulating these symbols; it is a unifying thread of almost all of mathematics. It includes everything from elementary equation solving to the study of abstractions such as groups, rings, and fields. The more basic parts of algebra are called elementary algebra; the more abstract parts are called abstract algebra or modern algebra. Elementary algebra is generally considered to be essential for any study of mathematics, science, or engineering, as well as such applications as medicine and economics. Abstract algebra is a major area in advanced mathematics, studied primarily by professional mathematicians.

In mathematics, a conic section is a curve obtained as the intersection of the surface of a cone with a plane. The three types of conic section are the hyperbola, the parabola, and the ellipse; the circle is a special case of the ellipse, though historically it was sometimes called a fourth type. The ancient Greek mathematicians studied conic sections, culminating around 200 BC with Apollonius of Perga's systematic work on their properties.

A timeline of algebra and geometry

A timeline of calculus and mathematical analysis.

In mathematics, Hudde's rules are two properties of polynomial roots described by Johann Hudde.