In 1655, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes claimed he h ad solved the centuries-old problem of "squaring the circle"-constructing a square equal in area to a given circle. With a scathing rebuttal to Hobbes's claims, the mathematician John Wallis began one of the longest and most intense intellectual disputes of all time. Squaring the Circle is a detailed account of this controversy, from the core mathematics to the broader philosophical, political, and religious issues at stake.
Hobbes believed that by recasting geometry in a materialist mold, he could solve any problem in geometry and thereby demonstrate the power of his materialist metaphysics. Wallis, a prominent Presbyterian divine as well as an eminent mathematician, refuted Hobbes's geometry as a means of discrediting his philosophy, which Wallis saw as a dangerous mix of atheism and pernicious political theory.
Hobbes and Wallis's "battle of the books" illuminates the intimate relationship between science and crucial seventeenth-century debates over the limits of sovereign power and the existence of God.
"An outstanding study of mathematics, philosophy, and society in the seventeenth century. By carefully delineating both the intellectual and social contexts of the bitter dispute with Wallis, Jesseph reveals the unexpected interest and significance of Hobbes's ill-fated attempts to solve the classical problems of geometry."
Michael Friedman, Indiana University, author of Kant and the Exact Sciences
"Douglas Jesseph brilliantly chronicles and analyzes the seventeenth-century debate between Thomas Hobbes and John Wallis on the foundations of mathematics, a debate that went well beyond mathematical and methodological concerns, spilling into questions of politics, church government, theology, and philosophy. Jesseph gives a detailed introduction to the intellectual context surrounding these issues. Moreover, his emphasis on the controversy is instrumental in providing an accurate image of Hobbes's materialist philosophy of mathematics."
Roger Ariew, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, coeditor of Descartes and His Contemporaries: Meditations, Objections, and Replies