Pierre de Fermat

Fermat was a seventeenth century mathematician who is primarily known for his famous "Last Theorem". His life history is not typical of what we would today recognize for mathematicians. This raises the question of "what is a mathematician?". A question of terminology also arises in what to call them. This is referred to in a recent book "17 Lectures on Fermat Numbers" on pages viii-ix
Fermat used the word geometrae when referring to mathematicians at large, but preferred to be called an analyst himself. Other terms for what we today would call a mathematician were geometer, Rechenmeister, wisconstler, cossist, and algebraist. One thing these variously named professionals agreed upon was that they were not mathematicians. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the notion mathematician retained the same meaning as during the Middle Ages; it meant astrologer or astronomer.

Whatever they called themselves, these individuals used mathematical methods, and they searched for relationships between equations and geometry, and more generally, between mathematical methods and nature. The main areas in which they achieved development were solving equations, describing curves and their properties, trigonometry, numerical methods, and calculus and its applications.


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Michael Somos <somos@grail.cba.csuohio.edu>
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