Jacob Bernoulli and the Mathematics of Tennis

in Nuncius
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Jacob Bernoulli’s Lettre à un Amy sur les Parties du Jeu de Paume employs the sorts of mathematical techniques that had been applied to games of chance by Pascal and Huygens to a game, now called Court Tennis or Royal Tennis, the outcomes of which depended, as he thought, not on chance but on athletic skill. He assumed that the players’ relative strengths could be determined a posteriori or by observation. Bernoulli’s work shows an alternate route by which mathematics was applied to the real world in the seventeenth century, one which did not involve Platonic conceptions of the role of mathematics, but rather the techniques of commercial arithmetic and, in particular, of algebra.

Jacob Bernoulli and the Mathematics of Tennis

in Nuncius



Bernoulli/Sylla 2006pp. 22–24.


Bernoulli/Sylla 2006pp. 363–364.


Bernoulli/Sylla 2006p. 364.


Bernoulli 1975pp. 63–64.


Bernoulli/Sylla 2006p. 378.


James FranklinThe Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability before Pascal (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press2001) p. 332.


Bernoulli/Sylla 2006pp. 22–23.


Edith Sylla“John Buridan and Critical Realism,” Early Science and Medicine2009 14: 211–47; eadem “The Oxford Calculators’ Middle Degree Theorem in Context” Early Science and Medicine 2010 15: 338–70.


Edith Sylla“Swineshead, Richard,” The Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. (Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons 2008) vol. 24 pp. 562–63.


Bernoulli/Sylla 2006p. 315.


 Cf. Michael LewisMoneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game (New York: W.W. Norton2003).


Bernoulli/Sylla 2006p. 317.


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