Robert Simson

(1687—1763) mathematician

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Robert Simson was born at Kirktonhill in Ayrshire (Scotland) on 14 October 1687 and died in Glasgow on 1 October 1768. He entered Glasgow University in March 1702 with the intention of training for the ministry. As a student he distinguished himself in classics and in natural history, particularly botany, and seems to have taught himself mathematics by reading Euclid's Elements. His reputation as a mathematician became sufficient for the Senate of Glasgow University to offer him the chair of mathematics in 1710, after the previous incumbent, Robert Sinclair, had been ousted for neglecting his duties. Conscious of his amateur status, and possibly of limitations to his mathematical range, Simson asked the Senate to hold the post open for a year while he undertook formal training. He entered the mathematical school established at Christ's Hospital (the Blue Coat School), London by Samuel Pepys for the training of Royal Navy navigators. During this year in London he also made the acquaintance of a number of leading mathematicians, including James Jurin, Secretary to the Royal Society, and Edmond Halley, Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford and widely recognized as second only to Newton in mathematical distinction. On his return to Glasgow in 1711 Simson passed a test of his mathematical skill and was installed as Professor of Mathematics at the University. The rest of Simson's life was spent in teaching the general course of mathematics which he established (including Cartesian geometry, Newtonian ‘fluxions’, algebra, theory of logarithms, mechanics and optics), or in researches on geometry which he usually tried to pursue in the ancient, Euclidian, style. He was, however, awarded an MD (honoris causa) from St Andrews University in 1746.


From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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