George Boole

George Boole was born on November 2, 1815, Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England and died December 8, 1864, Ballintemple, County Cork, Ireland), an English mathematician who helped establish modern symbolic logic and whose algebra of logic, now called Boolean algebra, is basic to the design of digital computer circuits.

George Boole’s parents were Mary Ann Joyce and John Boole.

John made shoes but he was interested in science and in particular the application of mathematics to scientific instruments.

Mary Ann was a lady’s maid and she married John on the 14th of September 1806.

They moved to Lincoln where John opened a cobbler’s shop at 34 Silver Street.

The family was not well off, partly because John’s love of science and mathematics meant that he did not devote the energy to developing his business in the way he might have done.

George, their first child, was born after Mary Ann and John had been married for nine years.

They had almost given up hope of having children after this time so it was an occasion for great rejoicing.

George was christened the day after he was born, an indication that he was a weak child that his parents feared might not live.

He was named after John’s father who had died in April 1815.

If George was a weak child after his birth, he certainly soon became strong and healthy.

George first attended a school in Lincoln for children of tradesmen run by two Misses Clarke when he was less than two years old.

After a year he went to a commercial school run by Mr Gibson, a friend of John Boole, where he remained until he was seven years old.

His early instruction in mathematics, however, was from his father who also gave George a liking for constructing optical instruments.

When he was seven George attended a primary school where he was taught by Mr Reeves.

His interests turned to languages and his father arranged that he receive instruction in Latin from a local bookseller.

Boole did not study for an academic degree, but from the age of 16 he was an assistant school teacher at Heigham’s School in Doncaster.

This was rather forced on him since his father’s business collapsed and he found himself having to support financially his parents, brothers and sister.

He maintained his interest in languages, began to study mathematics seriously, and gave up ideas which he had to enter the Church.

The first advanced mathematics book he read was Lacroix’s Differential and integral calculus.

He was later to realise that he had almost wasted five years in trying to teach himself the subject instead of having a skilled teacher.

In 1833 he moved to a new teaching position in Liverpool but he only remained there for six months before moving to Hall’s Academy in Waddington, four miles from Lincoln.

In 1834 he opened his own school in Lincoln although he was only 19 years old.

Developing novel ideas on logical method and confident in the symbolic reasoning he had derived from his mathematical investigations, he published in 1847 a pamphlet, “Mathematical Analysis of Logic,” in which he argued persuasively that logic should be allied with mathematics, not philosophy.

He won the admiration of the English logician Augustus De Morgan, who published Formal Logic the same year.

On the basis of his publications, Boole in 1849 was appointed the professor of mathematics at Queens College, County Cork, even though he had no university degree.

In 1854 he published An Investigation into the Laws of Thought, on Which Are Founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities, which he regarded as a mature statement of his ideas.