The Concept of Existence and the Role of Constructions in Euclid's Elements.

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This paper examines the widely accepted contention that geometrical constructions serve in Greek mathematics as proofs of the existence of the constructed figures. In particular, I consider the following two questions: first, whether the evidence taken from Aristotle's philosophy does support the modern existential interpretation of geometrical constructions; and second, whether Euclid's Elements presupposes Aristotle's concept of being. With regard to the first question, I argue that Aristotle's ontology cannot serve as evidence to support the existential interpretation, since Aristotle's ontological discussions address the question of the relation between the whole and its parts, while the modern discussions of mathematical existence consider the question of the validity of a concept. In considering the second question, I analyze two syllogistic reformulations of Euclidean proofs. This analysis leads to two conclusions: first, it discloses the discrepancy between Aristotle's view of mathematical objects and Euclid's practice, whereby it will cast doubt on the historical and theoretical adequacy of the existential interpretation. Second, it sets the conceptual background for an alternative interpretation of geometrical constructions. I argue, on the basis of this analysis that geometrical constructions do not serve in the Elements as a means of ascertaining the existence of geometrical objects, but rather as a means of exhibiting spatial relations between geometrical figures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalArchive for History of Exact Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2003


  • ARISTOTLE, 384-322 B.C.
  • GEOMETRICAL constructions
  • GREEK mathematics
  • EUCLID'S elements


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