Person: Vailati, Giovanni
Giovanni Vailati was an Italian philosopher, historian of science, and mathematician.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Giovanni had a cousin Orazio Maria Premoli (1864-1928) who was also born in Crema, a small town about 40 km south east of Milan, and the two were close throughout their lives.
- Giovanni attended both elementary and middle school at the College of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Monza and then, in 1874, continued his studies at the College of San Francesco in Lodi.
- Vailati was a boarder at this the College San Francesco and was awarded his diploma from the Liceo Verri in Lodi in 1880.
- Calcagni, the rector of the College, became a friend of both Vailati and his cousin Premoli.
- On 11 November 1880 Vailati entered the University of Turin and spent two years in the Mathematics Faculty before going to the School of Engineering.
- Giuseppe Peano was appointed as assistant to Enrico D'Ovidio at Turin in 1880 and Vailati was among the first group of students for whom he had to care.
- Clearly Peano had a major influence on Vailati who would become interested in topics on which Peano worked.
- Also studying mathematics at Turin, but one year ahead of Vailati, were Corrado Segre and Gino Loria.
- However, Vailati's interests were remarkably broad and, in addition to courses on mathematics and engineering, he read works on philosophy, history of science, psychology, pedagogy and economics.
- Vailati graduated with a civil engineering degree on 19 December 1885.
- However, probably mainly due to Peano, Vailati realised that mathematics was the subject for him so he continued to study at Turin for his mathematics degree which he was awarded on 17 January 1888.
- Perhaps it tells us something of Vailati's character that his classmates at university called him "the Philosopher" and noticed that he spent long periods of time in Turin's National Library where he read philosophy classics.
- Vailati did not seek employment after graduating but returned, rather reluctantly it would appear, to his home in Crema where he studied languages, music, literature and philosophy.
- After completing his years as Peano's assistant, Vailati became an assistant in projective geometry in 1895 and then, one year later, he became Vito Volterra's assistant at Turin.
- He published three articles related to these lectures: Del concetto di Centro di Gravità nella Statica di Archimede Ⓣ(On the concept of the centre of gravity in Archimedean statics) (1897); Il principio dei Lavori Virtuali da Aristotele a Erone d'Alessandria Ⓣ(The principle of virtual work from Aristotle to Heron of Alexandria); and Le speculazioni di Giovanni Benedetti sul moto dei gravi Ⓣ(Giovanni Benedetti's speculations on motion under gravity).
- In 1899, after spending seven years with the duties of an assistant at Turin, Vailati decided to take up school teaching.
- Certainly Vailati did not give up teaching mathematics, for he taught this topic at quite a number of schools and technical institutes over the next few years.
- In 1903 Vailati visited England, spending time at Cambridge and in Harrow.
- Vailati worked on mathematical logic, working closely with Peano on this topic, and also on the history and methodology of science.
- Vailati was a member of the organising committee of the First International Congress of Philosophy which was held in Paris in 1900 immediately before the First International Congress of Mathematicians.
- At the First International Congress of Philosophy, Vailati was appointed to the permanent international commission.
- This third conference was largely a discussion of pragmatism and this is almost certainly due to Vailati's influence on the committee.
- We noted above that Vailati started teaching in Florence in 1904; he taught there at the Technical Institute "G Galilei".
- In Florence, Vailati met with the founders of the journal "Leonardo" and he began contributing to that journal.
- The journal became the focus for a Pragmatism Club of Florence in which Vailati enthusiastically participated.
- In the article La più recente definizione della matematica Ⓣ(The most recent definition of mathematics) (1904), published in "Leonardo", Vailati discusses Bertrand Russell's statement that "mathematics is a science where we never need to know if what is said is true, nor do we need to know what we are talking about".
- When, in 1905, Vailati explained to the Accademia dei Lincei that although he would not be able to edit the works of Evangelista Torricelli, he still wished to remain in Florence so that he could continue studying in the National Library.
- Vailati began his career with an interest in the history of mechanics and in the last two years of his life he thought again about these questions.
- The Italian Society for the Progress of Sciences had been set up under its director Vito Volterra and Vailati joined the organising committee.
- Having taken leave from his teaching post in Florence, in the autumn of 1908 Vailati drew up plans to return to that position.
Born 24 April 1863, Crema, Italy. Died 14 May 1909, Rome, Italy.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive