Case Studies for the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
Vindicating Leibniz in the calculus priority dispute: The role of Augustus De Morgan 89
Adrian Rice Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, VA Vindicating Leibniz in the calculus priority dispute: The role of Augustus De Morgan Introduction It is today regarded as a matter of historical fact that Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz both independently conceived and developed the system of mathematical algorithms known collectively by the name of calculus. But this has not always been the prevalent point of view. During the eighteenth century, and much of the nineteenth, Leibniz was viewed by British mathematicians as a devious plagiarist who had not just stolen crucial ideas from Newton, but had also tried to claim the credit for the invention of the subject itself. Despite the fact that Newton was generally acknowledged to have developed his ‘method of f luxions’ several years previously, British writ- ers alleged that ‘ever since 1684, Leibnitz had been artfully working the world into an opinion, that he first invented this method’.1 It was also maintained ‘not only that Sir Isaac invented the method of Fluxions many years before Mr. Leibnitz knew any thing of it, but that Mr. Leibnitz took it from him’.2 In contrast, the actions of Newton were portrayed as ‘at all times dignified and just’, especially when compared to the underhanded 1 Charles Hutton, A mathematical and philosophical dictionary (2 vols, London: J. Johnson and G.G. & J. Robinson, 1795–6), vol. 2, p. 151. 2 John Nichols, Illustrations of the literary history of the eighteenth century, consisting of authentic memoirs and original letters of eminent persons, vol....
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