History of Projective Geometry and Foundations of Mathematics in the 19th Century
The end of the 19th century is generally known as the time when the discussion around the foundations of mathematics started and developed. The major works of Frege (Begriffsschrift 1879, and The Foundations of Arithmetic 1884), Cantor (a series of articles titled On Infinite, Linear Point-Manifolds 1878–1884) and Dedekind (Continuity and irrational numbers 1872, and What are numbers and what should they be? 1888) are considered the first, decisive steps of this debate.
However, from the late '20s to the early '50s of the 19th century there was an intense activity in the field of mathematics, partly to be regarded as foundational: projective geometry began as an independent discipline, separated from the ordinary Euclidean geometry (developed both through synthetic methods and more recent analytical methods). Many mathematicians, especially in the French and German linguistic area, regarded projective geometry as the discipline that could found the entire geometry in the light of new and more general concepts, rather than those metric notions typical of classic geometry.
A French mathematician, Michel Chasles (1793–1880) went even further: he believed that the concept of duality, characteristic of projective geometry, could be the expression of a deeper duality connoting the physical universe and its laws too; therefore, through a series of works published between 1828 and 1861, he tried to develop an entire foundational program where:
a) he showed how to express metric properties through graphic-projective concepts, under certain conditions;
b) he demonstrated that most of the physical quantities which characterise circular motions have a geometric basis;
c) he speculated the existence of an universal duality related to geometry and to the physical universe and its laws.
In an article published in 2019 in the Archive for History of Exact Sciences, I have dealt with the first point. My current research aims at writing a volume where all three points are analysed together, and where the features of Chasles' foundational program can be explained, as well as the interconnections between his thought and the ideas of his most relevant contemporaries.