The Euclidean Mousetrap: Schopenhauer’s Criticism of the Synthetic Method in Geometry

Idealistic Studies 38 (3):209-220 (2008)
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In his doctoral dissertation On the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Arthur Schopenhauer there outlines a critique of Euclidean geometry on the basis of the changing nature of mathematics, and hence of demonstration, as a result of Kantian idealism. According to Schopenhauer, Euclid treats geometry synthetically, proceeding from the simple to the complex, from the known to the unknown, “synthesizing” later proofs on the basis of earlier ones. Such a method, although proving the case logically, nevertheless fails to attain the raison d’être of the entity. In order to obtain this, a separate method is required, which Schopenhauer refers to as “analysis,” thus echoing a method already in practice among the early Greek geometers, with however some significant differences. In this essay, I here discuss Schopenhauer’s criticism of synthesis in Euclid’s Elements, and the nature and relevance of his own method of analysis.
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