Precision, Approximation and Correctness: Cultures of Accuracy in Early Modern Mathematics

While modern mathematics lends a great deal of attention to proofs and abstract formalization, early modern mathematical practitioners often rather aimed at obtaining precise, correct or useful outcomes. The aim of this symposium is to reflect on the development of various cultures of accuracy during the 17th century. Mathematical accuracy encompasses conceptions that are broader than simple degrees of precision: according to the context, it can mean that results have been obtained using a socially validated method, or that observations have been properly described, or that they are easily reproducible … This can for instance be seen in astronomical measures: what makes a measure acceptable or state a too large uncertainty? Italian astronomers strove for the esattezza in their observations and instruments (including using buildings as instruments). German surveyors, on the other hand, as well as accountants and architects, respected codified procedures meant to ensure both the correctness and the fairness (Gerechtigkeit) of their computations.

Cultures of accuracy allow us to go beyond simple dichotomies of true/false, proven/refuted, and thus to better understand what early modern mathematics consisted of by considering the common knowledge, the contemporary procedures and the rules in which they developed.

In this symposium, we welcome case studies aiming at comparing the various meanings of accuracy, their dynamics, and what made mathematical methods, instruments or procedures valid in the early modern period, looking for similarities and differences across various contexts and disciplines. Contact:

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