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The Stampioen Affair

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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2016

Theo Verbeek
Affiliation:
Universiteit Utrecht
Lawrence Nolan
Affiliation:
California State University, Long Beach
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Summary

The so-called Stampioen Affair publicly involves only two mathematicians: Jacob Waessenaer, a Utrecht surveyor and cartographer, and owner of a school in applied mathematics, who died in 1688 (date of birth unknown), and Jan Stampioen, born in 1610 (he probably died in 1653 in a gunpowder explosion at Arras), who had a somewhat similar position at Rotterdam before being appointed in 1638 or 1639 as teacher of mathematics to Prince William of Orange (1626–50), the son of the stadholder – something which Descartes initially does not seem to have realized (see AT III 736–42). Waessenaer was an able mathematician (according to John Pell [1611–85] one of the best in the United Provinces), who perfectly understood Descartes’ Geometry (see AT III 735–36). Stampioen seems to have been an excellent teacher and made innovative proposals in the field of mathematical notation (Cajori 1974). In 1633 Stampioen proposed a mathematical problem to Descartes, probably at the instigation of Isaac Beeckman. In his answer, Descartes feigns to be an amateur in mathematics but meanwhile solves Stampioen's problem and challenges him to solve the problem of Pappus (AT I 275–79). But although Descartes clearly is pulling Stampioen's leg, there is no animosity. It is not clear why Descartes became involved in what seems to have started as a quarrel between two rival mathematicians. The only intellectual motive one can think of is that in 1639 Stampioen published what he self-importantly called a “new algebra” (Stampioen 1639), which Descartes clearly found bogus. Nor do we know who took the initiative: Waessenaer who sought support against Stampioen, or Descartes himself who either wanted to expose Stampioen as a charlatan or tried to promote the cause of someone interested in his Geometry. Descartes’ first letter to Waessenaer (and the only one known) dates from February 1640 (AT III 21–28), but he must have been involved earlier (see AT III 6). Waessenaer may even be the Utrecht mathematician referred to in a letter to Mersenne of March 31, 1638 (AT II 99).

In 1638 Stampioen published two problems under the assumed name of Joannes Baptista Antwerpiensis (cf. AT II 601–2). The first concerns the attack on a horn-work (hoornwerk–a double bastion vaguely resembling a bull's head). Waessenaer published his solution in a lost pamphlet of 1638, using Descartes’ “notes” (AT II 605).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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References

Stampioen, Johan. 1639. Algebra ofte Nieuwe Stel-Regel. The Hague.Google Scholar
Stampioen, Johan. 1638. Openbaeringe der valscher practycken ghepleeght door Jacobus A. Waessenaer. The Hague.Google Scholar
Waessenaer, Jacobus. 1640. Den onwissen wis-konstenaer J. J. Stampioennius ont-deckt. Leiden: Christiaens.Google Scholar
Waessenaer, Jacobus. 1639. Aenmerckingen op den nieuwen Stel-regel Van Johan Stampioen de Jonghe. Leiden: Maire.Google Scholar
Cajori, Florian. 1974. A History of Mathematical Notations. La Salle: Open Court (originally published 1928).Google Scholar
Costabel, Pierre. 1969. “Descartes et la racine cubique des nombres binômes,” Revue d'histoire des sciences et de leurs applications 22: 97–116 (reprinted in Costabel, Démarches originales de Descartes savant. Paris: Vrin, 1982).Google Scholar
Verbeek, Theo, et al. 1643. The Correspondence of René Descartes, 1643. Utrecht: Zeno Institute for Philosophy. http://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/1723.Google Scholar

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  • The Stampioen Affair
  • Edited by Lawrence Nolan, California State University, Long Beach
  • Book: The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon
  • Online publication: 05 January 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511894695.238
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  • The Stampioen Affair
  • Edited by Lawrence Nolan, California State University, Long Beach
  • Book: The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon
  • Online publication: 05 January 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511894695.238
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • The Stampioen Affair
  • Edited by Lawrence Nolan, California State University, Long Beach
  • Book: The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon
  • Online publication: 05 January 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511894695.238
Available formats
×