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The independence of the parallel postulate and development of rigorous consistency proofs

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I trace the development of arguments for the consistency of non-Euclidean geometries and for the independence of the parallel postulate, showing how the arguments become more rigorous as a formal conception of geometry is introduced. I analyse the kinds of arguments offered by Jules Hoüel in 1860-1870 for the unprovability of the parallel postulate and for the existence of non-Euclidean geometries, especially his reaction to the publication of Beltrami's seminal papers, showing that Beltrami was much more concerned with the existence of non-Euclidean objects than he was with the formal consistency of non-Euclidean geometries. The final step towards rigorous consistency proofs is taken in the 1880s by Henri Poincaré. It is the formal conception of geometry, stripping the geometric primitive terms of their usual meanings, that allows the introduction of a modern fully rigorous consistency proof.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA

Publication date: 2007-02-01

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