Plato's Academy--A mathematical history

The opening of Plato's Academy in about 387 B.C. is heralded as the turning point in mathematics and was the first European university (Copleston, 127). The word Academy is derived from the name Academos -- the prior owner of the land on which the school was built -- and has become synonymous with higher thought and learning. Prior to the opening of the academy, mathematics was viewed as a subject relevant only to practical matters. Plato regarded the world that we are aware of through our senses as a place of deception, and proposed a world of ideas which were constant and true. (O'Connor and Robertson, Plato). Plato's new philosophy on teaching astonished those who came as they were not expecting a curriculum of only mathematics and astronomy (Copleston, 131). Not only was it a historic moment for mathematics, but the roots of practically every famous mathematician after that point can be traced back to the Academy's teachings.

Plato revolutionized the acceptance of mathematics by coming up with a very different philosophy for its study. The door to Plato's academy reportedly read "Let no one destitute of geometry enter my doors", which represented Plato's positive feelings towards mathematics education. Although he was primarily a philosopher, Plato made many important contributions to mathematics. He taught that mathematics should be learned for the joy of learning and not (as had been the case before the opening of the academy) for merely solving practical problems alone. In Republic, Plato stated mathematics should be studied "...not for the purpose of buying and selling... [But] for facilitating the conversion of the soul itself from the world of generation to essence and truth." (525c) Plato saw mathematics as the key to understanding the stars, and said in Epinomis "...people are ignorant...