François Viète was born in Fontenay-le-Comte, in Poitou in 1540. He studied law in Poitiers, following his father’s profession. Viète was a Huguenot và his life was much affected by the religious wars that afflicted France in the late sixteenth century. He managed khổng lồ steer a steady course in these turbulent times, serving kings on both sides of the religious divide, the Catholic, Henri III (1551-1589), and his Protestant successor, Henri IV (1553-1610). In the war with Philip II of Spain (1527-1598), that emerged after relative peace had been restored in France, Viète used his mathematical talent khổng lồ crack Spanish code khổng lồ the advantage of France.

Bạn đang xem: Francois viète and the foundations of algebra


François Viète, De aequationum recognitione et emendatione tractatus duo (Paris, 1615), title page.

Although Viète worked also in geometry và trigonometry, it is for his pioneering breakthrough in algebra that he is best known, especially in the development of notation, laying the foundation for what we use today. In his perception of the development of mathematical ideas, he preferred khổng lồ give credit to lớn the work of Greek, rather than Arabic/Islamic, mathematicians. Stedall (2008, phường 47) summarises his point of view as follows:

‘Viète’s most important contribution to was his recognition that geometric relationships could be expressed and explored through algebraic equations, leading to lớn a powerful fusion of two previously distinct legacies: classical Greek geometry and Islamic algebra. The central technique of algebra, taught in many sixteenth-century texts as the “Rule of Algebra”, was one that should assign a symbol or letter lớn an unknown quantity and then, bearing in mind the requirements of the problem, manipulate it alongside known quantities khổng lồ produce an equation. For Viète, never content with a simple idea unless he could clothe it in a Greek term, this was the classical method of “analysis” in which, he claimed, one assumes that what one is seeking is somehow known và then sets up the relationships or equations it must satisfy. Thus Viète saw the application of algebra khổng lồ geometric quantities as the restored art of analysis.’

The Edward Worth Library has a copy of his De aequationum recognitione et emendatione tractatus duo (Paris, 1615). (Two treatises on the understanding và amendment of equations).

Although some earlier mathematicians, such as Diophantus in the third century, al-Khwārizmī in the ninth & Cardano in the sixteenth, had a good grasp of the generality of algebra, they did not combine the mathematical concepts with an efficient notation to express the power nguồn of algebra fluently. For example, when Cardano discovered the general formula for the solution of cubic equations, he expressed it as a procedure applied to lớn specific equations, such as x³ + 6x = 20. Moreover, he stated the problem in terms of words (‘a cube & 6 things are equal to lớn 20’) rather than symbols. Viète might have expressed this problem more generally as: A cubus + B plano in A, æquetur C solido, and then would have solved for A in terms of B and C. He adopted the convention of using capital letters for both (unknown) variables and (known) constants, choosing vowels for variables & consonants for constants. He could not accept adding terms having different dimensions, such as a ‘volume’, x³, khổng lồ a ‘length’, 6x. He insisted that equations should be homogeneous, so that, if A is a length, B will need lớn be an area (‘plano’) for A³+BA khổng lồ make sense (as a volume); moreover, the C on the right-hand side of this equation is a volume (‘solido’).

De aequationum recognitione et emendation contains a large number of theorems, written in Latin. Although Viète used symbols for variables và constants, the substantial textual nội dung makes his work difficult khổng lồ access for today’s reader. Let us conclude with one short theorem from this work.


François Viète, De aequationum recognitione et emendatione tractatus duo (Paris, 1615), p 19.

The statement of the theorem is essentially: if A² = Z (an area), và A – B = E, then we can conclude that E² + 2BE = Z – B². Here, we should think of A và E as variables, while Z & B are constants. This simple theorem shows how the substitution y = x – b allows us lớn express the quadratic equation, x² = c, in terms of a quadratic equation in y: y² + 2by = c – b².


Encyclopædia Britannica, entry for in the 17th và 18th centuries (2016).

Hartshorne, Robin, François Viète, (University of California at Berkeley).

O’Connor, J.J. & Robertson E.F., François Viète, MacTutor History of, (University of St Andrews, Scotland, February 2000).

Xem thêm: Người Yêu Khả Như - Khả Như Hé Lộ Chuyện Chia Tay Với Khương Ngọc

Stedhall, Jacqueline, Emerging. A Sourcebook 1540-1900 (Oxford University Press, 2008).