Pierre de Fermat: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Laura Pennington

Laura has taught collegiate mathematics and holds a master's degree in pure mathematics.

Pierre de Fermat is a prominent figure in the field of mathematics. This lesson will give a brief overview of his life and various facts about the man he was and his work in mathematics.

Pierre de Fermat

Pierre de Fermat is an extremely important and fascinating figure in mathematics. Though there's speculation about the exact details of his birth and early life, it's said that he was born on August 17, 1601 in Beaumont-de-Lomagne, France and died on January 12, 1665 in Castres, France.


Pierre de Fermat
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It's believed that Fermat received his early education at a local Franciscan school and that he attended the University of Toulouse in the 1620s. After that, he moved to Bordeaux, and at that point the historic facts of his life become more concrete. In Bordeaux, Fermat began his research in mathematics.

After living in Bordeaux for a time, he moved to Orléans where he received a degree in civil law from the University of Orléans. Though Fermat was a lawyer by trade, he was one of the most well-known mathematicians of his time, and still is today due to all of the contributions he has made to the study of mathematics! With all that he has accomplished in the field of mathematics, it's fascinating to think that it wasn't his actual job. It was just a hobby to him!

His brilliance didn't stop with just mathematics and law, he was also fluent in six languages (French, Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Occitan), and was a government official in Toulouse. In fact, his given birth name was Pierre Fermat, and it wasn't until he achieved official government status that he was qualified to change his name to Pierre de Fermat.

Facts about Pierre de Fermat

As we mentioned, math was more of a pastime for Fermat. Because of this, he never published any of his mathematical research. Most of his findings were found after his death on scrap paper and in margins of books with no proof to back them up. Thomas Heath, a mathematical scholar, once said, ''Fermat never cared to publish his investigations, but was always perfectly ready, as we see from his letters, to acquaint his friends and contemporaries with his results.''


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This is very true! A lot of Fermat's mathematical works came through collaborating with other mathematicians, through letters at the time. The fact that he was fluent in many languages enabled him to have correspondence with a large variety of mathematicians. Many of those scholars are still well-known today, such as Pascal, Mersenne, and Descartes. However, Fermat and Descartes were actually considered enemies when it came to mathematics due to Fermat claiming that some of Descartes' mathematical works were incorrect.

Because most of his work was through correspondence, there's little evidence that his claims to have proven all of his theorems are true. Some believe that he didn't have the proofs he claimed to have because math was less developed then, so he didn't have the modern-day mathematical tools that would be needed to carry out some of these proofs. As an example, let's take a look at one of his most well-known theorems.

Fermat's Last Theorem

Fermat greatly contributed to the study of mathematics in various fields, such as analytic geometry, differential calculus, theory of probability, and number theory. In fact, he's sometimes called the founder of the modern theory of numbers, and he and Pascal are considered to be the co-founders of probability theory. However, of all of his contributions, Fermat's last theorem is his most well-known piece of work. His son found this theorem where Fermat had written it in the margin of an edition of Diophantus' book Arithmetica.

Fermat's last theorem claimed that an equation in the book, xn + yn = zn had no whole integer solutions for n > 2. Like most of his theorems, there's much speculation as to whether or not Fermat actually had a proof for this theorem. He wrote this theorem in the margin along with the statement, ''I have a truly remarkable proof which this margin is too small to contain.'' This quote is perhaps as well-known as the theorem itself in mathematics!


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