Zeno of Elea

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History of Math

Zeno of Elea

Zeno of Elea is a Greek mathematician. He would, however, be better described as a

philosopher. Little is known about his life for none of his own writings have survived. Most of

what is known about him comes from the writings of Aristotle. Zeno is said to have lived during

the fifth century BC in the Greek town of Elea in southern Italy. Zeno is important to the study of

Math History because of his major contributions, the paradoxes, and some other minor


The most noted of Zeno's works are his paradoxes. Those dealing with plurality and with

motion. These were written in response to a theory circulating through the region concerning what

we today would call a timespace continuum. The other Greek philosophers and mathematicians

thought that the world was a plurality of points and instants.1 This theory was started by the

Pathagoreans. They said the world had continuity. To contradict them, Zeno took their arguments

for continuity to an extreme at which point they became absurd.

To argue against plurality, Zeno said that if they are a continuous number of points then

there is a given number of them. Yet, if they are finite, they cannot be infinite and plural. The

whole point of his argument is to bring his opponents argument to a contradiction of logic. This

was a typical argument against plurality.

Similar to Zeno's argument against plurality is his argument against motion. He did not

truly believe that motion, as given by the senses, exists. These paradoxes built around the

argument of an infinite being finite make up the majority of his world view.

The first paradox of motion is called the Dichotomy. It basically says that for an object to

travel a given distance, it must first...