The Jesuits and the Method of Indivisibles

David M Sherry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Alexander’s Infinitesimal is right to argue that the Jesuits had a chilling effect on Italian mathematics, but I question his account of the Jesuit motivations for suppressing indivisibles. Alexander alleges that the Jesuits’ intransigent commitment to Aristotle and Euclid explains their opposition to the method of indivisibles. A different hypothesis, which Alexander doesn’t pursue, is a conflict between the method of indivisibles and the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. This is a pity, for the conflict with the Eucharist has advantages over the Jesuit commitment to Aristotle and Euclid. The method of indivisibles was a method that developed in the course of the seventeenth century, and those who developed ‘beyond the Alps’ relied upon Aristotelian and Euclidean ideals. Alexander’s failure to recognize the importance of Aristotle and Euclid for the development of the method of indivisibles arises from an unwarranted conflation of indivisibles and infinitesimals (Sect. 2). Once indivisibles and infinitesimals are distinguished, we observe that the development of the method of indivisibles exhibits an unmistakable sympathy for Aristotle and Euclid (Sect. 3). Thus, it makes sense to consider an alternative explanation for the Jesuit abhorrence of indivisibles. And indeed, indivisibles but not infinitesimals conflict with the doctrine of the Eucharist, the central dogma of the Church (Sect. 4).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)367-392
Number of pages26
JournalFoundations of Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • Barrow
  • Cavalieri
  • Eucharist
  • Euclid
  • Galileo
  • Indivisibles
  • Infinitesimals
  • Jesuit science
  • Pascal
  • Torricelli

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General
  • History and Philosophy of Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The Jesuits and the Method of Indivisibles'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this