Rafael Nájera – Mathematics and the Sciences in the Middle Ages
McGill Philosophy Workshop
Mathematics and the Sciences in the Middle Ages
Wednesday, March 17, at 12pm in Leacock 927.
I will talk about mathematics and its role in the sciences in the Latin West mostly before the wave of translations of works of Greek and Arabic origin in the 12th century. The main character will be the 6th century Roman writer Boethius, who translated and paraphrased an important work on arithmetic by Nicomachus of Gerasa. Some of Boethius’s ideas on mathematics may sound strange, but were standard Platonic and Pythagorean fare. He thought, for instance, that arithmetic is prior to all the sciences, that everything was created according to numbers. He thought, like Plato and Augustine, that mathematics is one of the most direct paths to wisdom, and coined the term quadrivium, the four-fold way, to refer to the mathematic disciplines. With this he helped in the preservation of the Greek tradition of higher education based in the Liberal Arts. I will try to explain all this, and talk about the influence it had before and after the first contacts with Aristotelian philosophy and how it fits in the bigger historical and philosophical picture that I am trying to elucidate in my research project.