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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: July 2021

7 - Deceptive familiarity: differential equations in Leibniz and the Leibnizian school (1689–1736)


The differential equations as written by Leibniz and by his immediate followers look very similar to the ones in use nowadays. They are familiar to our students of mathematics and physics. Yet, in order to make them fully compatible with the conventions adopted in our textbooks, we have to change just a few symbols. Such “domesticating” renderings, however, generate a remarkable shift in meaning, making those very equations – when so reformulated – not acceptable for their early-modern authors. They would have considered our equations, as we write them, wrong and corrected them back, for they explicitly adopted tasks and criteria different from ours. In this chapter, focusing on a differential equation formulated by Johann Bernoulli in 1710, I evaluate the advantages and risks inherent in these anachronistic renderings.