Talk:Pierre de Fermat

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It would be nice if there were a note in the beginning about how to pronounce "Fermat." Since he was from France, I'm fairly confident it's not "fur-mat", but I'm not actually sure how it's pronounced. Ketsuekigata 21:57, 26 April 2007 (UTC)

It's pronounced 'Fer-mar' or at least that's how it was said in several documentaries.

It's always nice to have the IPA, but in this case it is lacking an indication for the accented syllable (either first or last, evidently) of Pierre's surname.AtomAnt (talk) 20:09, 13 October 2014 (UTC)

"...the ancients did not know everything..."[edit]

I believe that his quote about why he did mathematics was to show that "the ancients did not know everything" is important (I am not sure of the wording or where this quotation is to be found.)

The idea that in his time people in the west at least felt they were still trying to catch up to what was known in ancient Greece and Rome is sort of striking since in our time this is not generally the case. Anyhow, I think it could be added to the article but I am not sure where.--Jrm2007 (talk) 10:53, 10 March 2014 (UTC)

Not yet a knight[edit]

"It was not proved until 1994 by Sir Andrew Wiles" isn't quite true: Wiles wasn't Sir Andrew when he proved FLT. (talk) 00:29, 4 November 2014 (UTC)

Use of term amateur[edit]

The discussion of Fermat's being an amateur or not is currently taking place in the form of an edit pre-war. I personally don't think there is universal agreement as to describing Fermat as an amateur mathematician, even with the proviso that this merely means that by profession he was a lawyer. By this criterion Newton and Leibniz will also be amateurs. Tkuvho (talk) 10:21, 1 March 2015 (UTC)

Sorry about that. I was on the "amateur" side, because he so clearly fits the definition in the technical sense: he was never paid to do math. However, I just asked Google Books for "fermat was a mathematician" and "fermat was an amateur mathematician"; both queries primarily showed RS math books, but the first gave 151 hits and the second 17. So unless someone can come up with a counterargument, I guess he should be called a mathematician tout simple, with clarification elsewhere that he earned his sous lawyering. FourViolas (talk) 11:47, 1 March 2015 (UTC)
The lawyer business is already mentioned in the first line of the page. Tkuvho (talk) 12:22, 1 March 2015 (UTC)
Though I did revert one of the anonymous editor's repeated deletions of the word amateur, I think the intro sentence reads better without it. But I don't think there's any reason not to discuss his amateur status later in the article. If it is mentioned, I'd say there should be some context given regarding how many 17th-century scientists and mathematicians could have been considered professionals. My non-expert impression is that in those days, not many people were getting paid to make discoveries or advancements in scientific knowledge. Eric talk 00:30, 2 March 2015 (UTC)
My personal impression is the following. I emphasize that this is my personal impression and therefore is not for inclusion in the page as that would constitute WP:OR. There was a bitter dispute between Fermat and Descartes starting in the 1630s. One of the accusations leveled by Descartes against Fermat was his amateurishness and absence of explanation of his (Fermat's) procedures. This theme has been picked up by a number of historians in spite of much evidence to the contrary. As Eric points out, most scientists in the 17th century were not paid for their scientific work. Thus Newton was employed at the Royal Mint if I recall correctly. Leibniz was paid for writing histories, and surprise, extensive lawyering. So if certain historians insist on mentioning that Fermat was an amateur this could well be a sorry legacy of the quarrel with Descartes. Tkuvho (talk) 08:38, 2 March 2015 (UTC)
My impression is that the word amateur itself, as attached to Fermat's legacy, has much to do with the outsized influence of E.T. Bell's Men of Mathematics (and perhaps this does owe something to Descartes, but that's unclear). Bell's publication, while full of inaccuracies and embellishments, did make an impression upon many future mathematicians and historians of previous generations. I'm no fan of Bell's scholarship, so I am fine with omitting the word amateur as that appears to be the consensus. But I do want to point out that the word is a familiar association to Fermat for a not insignificant number of readers of a certain generation.
Regarding Newton's work at the mint, note that he had largely retired from research when he accepted that position. During his most productive years, he held the position of Lucasian Chair of Mathematics and so could well be characterized as a professional scientific researcher (of natural philosophy, as it was referred to back then). — Myasuda (talk) 14:10, 2 March 2015 (UTC)
Good point, thanks. Tkuvho (talk) 16:02, 2 March 2015 (UTC)
In light of his dispute with Descartes, it may well be worth including some discussion of the term amateur in the pejorative sense in which Descartes apparently applied it to Fermat--if Descartes was calling him unprofessional for not demonstrating how he derived his theorems. That sense of the word, as opposed to the idea of mathematics not being Fermat's profession, would merit discussion if it was or is a view held by other mathematicians. @Tkuvho, do we have some original French quote from Descartes? I'd be curious to see the original context. I took a quick look in Google Books, but nothing popped out at me. Eric talk 20:12, 7 March 2015 (UTC)
I don't have time to look this up now but if you look at Mahoney's book on Fermat for sure you will find something in this direction. Tkuvho (talk) 10:19, 8 March 2015 (UTC)

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