Person: Whewell, William
William Whewell is most famous today for his work on the philosophy of science, history of science, and moral philosophy.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- However, the Revd Joseph Rowley, headmaster of Lancaster grammar school and the parish priest, recognised William's talents and offered free education for him at Lancaster grammar school.
- Several years later he persuaded John to let William attend Heversham Grammar School in Westmorland, about 20 kilometres north of his native town, where he would receive instruction to allow him to compete for a scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge.
- In 1810 William went to Heversham where he spent two years.
- We should note at this stage that Whewell had made a number of friends among top academics during his undergraduate years at Cambridge including John Herschel, Charles Babbage, George Peacock and other members of the Analytical Society.
- Whewell was appointed as a mathematics lecturer and assistant tutor at Cambridge in 1818.
- At a time when Cambridge was still finding acceptance of the superior Continental approach to mathematics, Whewell played a major role in modernising their approach with his textbooks An Elementary Treatise on Mechanics (1819) and A Treatise on Dynamics (1823).
- He was by now making friends with younger Cambridge men such as Augustus De Morgan and William Rowan Hamilton.
- Although he showed himself a great enthusiast for the French analytical methods in the first editions of the above two works, we should say that over the years Whewell became worried that the lack of geometric methods would damage students' intuitive understanding and as a result he reduced the analytical tools, increasing the geometrical methods in the later editions of his books.
- Up to the mid 1820s Whewell had taught, written and researched mathematics.
- Five days later Whewell received a letter from Sir Robert Peel, the prime minister, saying that the Queen had accepted his recommendation that Whewell should be appointed master of Trinity.
- One should not get the impression that Whewell moved away from applied mathematics, however, rather he included many other areas in his wide range of interests while continuing to research applied mathematical fields.
- Note that the word 'Physicist' used in this quote by Whewell is also a word coined by him.
- The areas for which Whewell is most famous today are philosophy of science, history of science, and moral philosophy.
- After a law is produced by induction, Whewell argued that next is required a confirmation stage.
- For Whewell his work on the history of science was an integral part of that on the philosophy of science, both contributing to knowledge.
- The last years of Whewell's life were filled with sadness.
- On 24 February 1866 Whewell fell from his horse while riding outside Cambridge after the animal bolted.
Born 24 May 1794, Lancaster, Lancashire, England. Died 6 March 1866, Cambridge, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive