… begat …

by Kieran Healy on July 1, 2005

Brian Leiter “links”:http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2005/06/the_philosophic.html to some “philosophical genealogies”:http://webspace.utexas.edu/deverj/personal/philtree/philtree.html where Josh Dever tries to trace lineages back as far as possible through a sequence of advisers. As David Velleman points out, lineages in mathematics are “much better established”:http://genealogy.math.ndsu.nodak.edu/index.html because the tradition of formal training is much older. There are other limits to tracing lineages, too, notably the different evolutionary paths of academic institutions in various countries. In the philosophical genealogies compiled by Dever the longest chains are for logicians, and go back to Leibniz and beyond (which speaks to the point Velleman makes), but they’re also all German. Academics tracing themselves through English lines have a much harder time, because the “was the doctoral supervisor of” relation was much less institutionalized in that system. So, for instance, “my wife’s”:http://www.u.arizona.edu/~lapaul lineage goes back to “A.N. Whitehead”:http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Whitehead.html (via Lewis and Quine), but stops there because I don’t think Whitehead ever had a doctoral adviser in the sense demanded by the lineage-makers. The closest you get (I think) are the examiners of Whitehead’s dissertation (submitted in a successful effort to win a Cambridge Fellowship), one of whom was “Lord Kelvin”:http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Thomson.html, or William Thompson as he then was.



Greg Restall 07.01.05 at 6:57 am

The mathematical genealogy project is great. I was delighted to find out that my family tree goes back to Weierstrass and Gauss. (You’re right about those German mathematicians. Apparently, my line goes back at least to Otto Mencke, who was granted his Doctorate from Leipzig in 1668.)


Matt 07.01.05 at 9:26 am

I was quite curious about the Leibniz claim- I don’t recall him ever having been a teacher in a formal sense at all- a tutor to princes and princesses perhaps, but I’m moderately sure he never held a university position or really taught people. Can anyone explain how that chain that Velleman points to is supposed to work? I’m happy to learn something new hear, but I’d always thought that Leibniz wasn’t ever a formal teacher, and if we’re going to allow informal teaching or “learned from” and the like, the list will get much looser, I’d think. Someone who knows Leibniz welll, please help!


David Velleman 07.01.05 at 2:27 pm

Well, Matt, that’s interesting. I was just reporting the genealogy as it is recorded in the Mathematics Genealogy Project. But now that you’ve raised the question, I see that the MGP may not be reliable. For example this biography of Jacob Bernoulli says nothing about his stuying with Leibniz. So maybe the lineage I listed is apocryphal.


David Velleman 07.01.05 at 2:35 pm

Sorry — I was looking at the wrong Bernoulli brother. It’s Johann who is listed as Leibniz’s student. Johann’s biography is here. It says:

Johann Bernoulli also began a correspondence with Leibniz which was to prove very fruitful. In fact this turned out to be the most major correspondence which Leibniz carried out. This was a period of considerable mathematical achievement for Johann Bernoulli. Although he was working on his doctoral dissertation in medicine he was producing numerous papers on mathematical topics which he was publishing and also important results which were contained in his correspondence.

Obviously, the fact that Bernoulli corresponded with Leibniz while writing his dissertation doesn’t make Leibniz his dissertation advisor.


Matt 07.01.05 at 3:21 pm

Thanks for the further information, David- I appreciate it (especialy since I was too lazy to look it up myself!)


agm 07.02.05 at 7:33 pm

Now that I think of it, Leibniz was waht we would call these days an ambassador-at-large (if I remember my history of math class correctly). Interesting…


joel turnipseed 07.02.05 at 8:23 pm

Hmmm… I’m confused: Kripke is on the list, but he doesn’t have a PhD (did he even finish his BA?). How can he have a “parent”? Also, very incomplete, as several of Donald Davidson’s children (my former professors) are missing.

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