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The Oxford Calculators were a group of 14th-century thinkers, almost all associated with Merton Collegemarker, Oxfordmarker, who took a strikingly logico-mathematical approach to philosophical problems.The key "calculators", writing in the second quarter of the 14th century, were Thomas Bradwardine, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead and John Dumbleton.These men built on the slightly earlier work of Walter Burley and Gerard of Brussels.


The Oxford Calculators distinguished kinematics from dynamics, emphasizing kinematics, and investigating instantaneous velocity. They first formulated the mean speed theorem: a body moving with constant velocity travels the same distance as an accelerated body in the same time if its velocity is half the final speed of the accelerated body. They also demonstrated this theorem—the essence of "The Law of Falling Bodies" — long before Galileo, who is generally credited with it.

The mathematical physicist and historian of science Clifford Truesdell, wrote:

In Tractatus de proportionibus (1328), Thomas Bradwardine extended the theory of proportions of Eudoxus to anticipate the concept of exponential growth, later developed by the Bernoulli and Euler, with compound interest as a special case. Arguments for the mean speed theorem (above) require the modern concept of limit, so Bradwardine had to use arguments of his day. Mathematician and mathematical historian Carl O. Boyer writes, "Bradwardine developed the Boethian theory of double or triple or, more generally, what we would call 'n-tple' proportion".

Boyer also writes that "the works of Bradwardine had contained some fundamentals of trigonometry gleaned from Muslim sources". Yet "Bradwardine and his Oxford colleagues did not quite make the breakthrough to modern science" (Cantor 2001, p 122). The most essential missing tool was algebra.

See also



  • Sylla, Edith (1999) "Oxford Calculators", in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy.

Further reading

  • Sylla, Edith (1982) "The Oxford Calculators", in Kretzmann, Kenny & Pinborg (edd.), The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy.
  • Longeway, John (2003) " William Heytesbury", in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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