Space, Imagination, and Numbers in John Wyclif’s Mathematical Theology

  • Aurélien RobertEmail author
Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 48)


The aim of this paper is to show that John Wyclif’s theory of space is at once an interpretation of the Platonic theory of place and a Neopythagorean conception of magnitudes and numbers. The result is an original form of mathematical atomism in which atoms are point-like entities with a particular situation in space. If the core of this view comes from Boethius’ De arithmetica, John Wyclif is also influenced by Robert Grosseteste’s metaphysics, which includes the Boethian number theory within the Christian tale of the creation of the world ex nihilo. John Wyclif, however, adds some novelty to this theory concerning the epistemological status of this hypothetical description of the creation of the world out of atoms. First, according to Wyclif, whereas geometry is concerned with sensible and imaginable beings, arithmetic, which is purely intellectual, has access to the deep mathematical structure of the universe. He then suggests a subordination of geometry under arithmetic, which he considers the most solid basis for his metaphysics. As a result, with the attribution of numbers and units to every level of reality, it becomes possible to reform our natural imagination, so that it can imagine the atomic structure of matter and space.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre d’Études Supérieures de la RenaissanceCNRS, Université de ToursToursFrance

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