Gauss and the Mathematical Background to Standardisation

José Ferreirós 1
  • 1 IMUS and Departamento de Filosofía y Lógica, Universidad de Sevilla


Our aim is to explore the links between standardisation, the quantifying spirit, and the discipline mathematics. To do so, we consider the work of Gauss, renowned as a pure mathematician, but professionally an astronomer, and one heavily engaged with all kinds of measuring and precision initiatives. He contributed to the mathematical correction of data with the method of least squares; to observations of high precision in his geodetic work; to the introduction of absolute measures in his collaborations with Weber on terrestrial magnetism; and to the rationalisation of weights and measures in the state of Hannover. Ultimately, the question is to what extent such precision and standardisation activities may have been rooted in the mathematical way of thinking. Mathematics in our tradition has had a strong contemplative bias (theory, theorein in Greek means to contemplate), but it’s a fact that mathematics has always had a non-eliminable technical side.

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