Medieval Math

I have previously argued that Aristotle’s relative lack of engagement with mathematics was based not on any deep-seated antipathy, but rather on an accurate practical assessment of how little the mathematics available in his lifetime had to offer for explaining why things happen as they do in the world of becoming. In the middle ages, some scholastics began to develop aspects of a mathematical physics.

At Merton College, Oxford, in the 14th century there was a group of scholars who came to be known as the “Calculators”, including Thomas Bradwardine 1300 – 1349), William Heytesbury (1313 – 1373), Richard Swineshead (mid-14th century) and John Dumbleton (1310 – 1349). Building in part on the earlier work of Walter Burley, they discussed applications of mathematics to various physical problems. Bradwardine’s mathematical work was also taken up by John Buridan’s student Nicolas of Oresme (1320 – 1382), and by the unorthodox Italian scholastic Biagio da Parma.

The major work in optics by the Iraqi Ibn al-Haytham or Alhazen (965 – 1040) was also taken up by several Europeans, including Roger Bacon and Biagio da Parma. This laid the ground for the theory of perspective used in Renaissance painting.