chapter  2
14 Pages

The Problem of Consistency

The nineteenth century witnessed a tremendous expansion and intensification of mathematical research. Many fundamental problems that had long withstood the best efforts of earlier thinkers were solved; new departments of mathematical study were created; and in various branches of the discipline new foundations were laid, or old ones entirely recast with the help of more precise techniques of analysis. To illustrate: the Greeks had proposed three problems in elementary geometry: with compass and straight-edge to trisect any angle, to construct a cube with a volume twice the volume of a given cube, and to construct a square equal in area to that of a given circle. For more than 2,000 years unsuccessful attempts were made to solve these problems; at last, in the nineteenth century it was proved that the desired constructions are logically impossible. There was, moreover, a valuable by-product of these labors. Since the solutions depend essentially upon determining the kind of roots that satisfy

certain equations, concern with the celebrated exercises set in antiquity stimulated profound investigations into the nature of number and the structure of the number continuum. Rigorous definitions were eventually supplied for negative, complex, and irrational numbers; a logical basis was constructed for the real number system; and a new branch of mathematics, the theory of infinite numbers, was founded.