History of mathematics, Tangent line problem
Pierre de Fermat and René Descartes were two brilliant 17th century mathematicians who have had lasting impacts on modern mathematics. Descartes laid the groundwork for the Cartesian coordinate system that is frequently employed in modern mathematics and Fermat’s last theorem vexed the mathematics community until Wiles’ proof was published in 1995. Amidst their many ground-breaking accomplishments these two men produced solutions for another mathematical problem - developing a general method to find the tangent line to a curve.
In spite of their apparent genius, neither man’s method had the lasting impact of their other works. Descartes’ and Fermat’s methods were quickly superseded by the development of calculus thirty years later. In many ways these methods contributed to the development of calculus, yet in others they drastically deviated from it. This deviation is the driving force behind this investigation: why were their methods so different? And what does this reveal about the development of mathematics?
Skinner, Lindsay, "The World Before Calculus: Historical Approaches to the Tangent Line Problem" (2015). WWU Honors Program Senior Projects. 13.
Subjects - Topical (LCSH)
Curves--Early works to 1800; Mathematics--Early works to 1800
Subjects - Names (LCNAF)
Fermat, Pierre de, 1601-1665; Descartes, René, 1596-1650
student projects; term papers
Copying of this document in whole or in part is allowable only for scholarly purposes. It is understood, however, that any copying or publication of this document for commercial purposes, or for financial gain, shall not be allowed without the author’s written permission.