George Boole

Born in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, on November 2, 1815, George Boole was the son of a tradesman and was largely self-taught. He began teaching at the age of 16 to help support his family. In his spare time he read mathematical journals and soon began to write articles for them. By the age of 29, Boole had received a gold medal for his work from the British Royal Society. His Mathematical Analysis of Logic, a pamphlet published in 1847, contained his first statement of the principles of symbolic logic. Two years later he was appointed professor of mathematics at Queen’s College in Ireland, even though he had never studied at a university. He died in Ballintemple, Ireland, on December 8, 1864.

George Boole, (born November 2, 1815, Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England—died December 8, 1864, Ballintemple, County Cork, Ireland), 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.

Boole was given his first lessons in mathematics by his father, a tradesman, who also taught him to make optical instruments. Aside from his father’s help and a few years at local schools, however, Boole was self-taught in mathematics. When his father’s business declined, George had to work to support the family. From the age of 16 he taught in village schools in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and he opened his own school in Lincoln when he was 20. During scant leisure time he read mathematics journals in the Lincoln’s Mechanics Institute. There he also read Isaac Newton’s Principia, Pierre-Simon Laplace’s Traité de mécanique céleste, and Joseph-Louis Lagrange’s Mécanique analytique and began to solve advanced problems in algebra.

For centuries philosophers have studied logic, which is orderly and precise reasoning. George Boole, an English mathematician, argued in 1847 that logic should be allied with mathematics rather than with philosophy. Demonstrating logical principles with mathematical symbols instead of words, he founded symbolic logic, a field of mathematical/philosophical study.

In the new discipline he developed, known as Boolean algebra, all objects are divided into separate classes, each with a given property; each class may be described in terms of the presence or absence of the same property. An electrical circuit, for example, is either on or off. Boolean algebra has been applied in the design of binary computer circuits and telephone switching equipment. These devices make use of Boole’s two-valued (presence or absence of a property) system.