Evolution of teaching the probability theory based on textbook by V. P. Ermakov

Keywords: history of mathematics, definition of probability, axiomatic approach, mathematical expectation


The paper is devoted to the study of what changes the course of the probability theory has undergone from the end of the 19th century to our time based on the analysis of The Theory of Probabilities textbook by Vasyl P. Ermakov published in 1878. In order to show the competence of the author of this textbook, his biography and creative development of V. P. Ermakov, a famous mathematician, Corresponding Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, have been briefly reviewed. He worked at the Department of Pure Mathematics at Kyiv University, where he received the title of Honored Professor, headed the Department of Higher Mathematics at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, published the Journal of Elementary Mathematics, and he was one of the founders of the Kyiv Physics and Mathematics Society. The paper contains a comparative analysis of The Probability Theory textbook and modern educational literature. V. P. Ermakov's textbook uses only the classical definition of probability. It does not contain such concepts as a random variable, distribution function, however, it uses mathematical expectation. V. P. Ermakov insists on excluding the concept of moral expectation accepted in the science of that time from the probability theory. The textbook consists of a preface, five chapters, a synopsis containing the statements of the main results, and a collection of tasks with solutions and instructions. The first chapter deals with combinatorics, the presentation of which does not differ much from its modern one. The second chapter introduces the concepts of event and probability. Although operations on events have been not considered at all; the probabilities of intersecting and combining events have been discussed. However, the above rule for calculating the probability of combining events is generally incorrect for compatible events. The third chapter is devoted to events during repeated tests, mathematical expectation and contains Bernoulli's theorem, from which the law of large numbers follows. The next chapter discusses conditional probabilities, the simplest version of the conditional mathematical expectation, the total probability formula and the Bayesian formula (in modern terminology). The last chapter is devoted to the Jordan method and its applications. This method is not found in modern educational literature. From the above, we can conclude that the probability theory has made significant progress since the end of the 19th century. Basic concepts are formulated more rigorously; research methods have developed significantly; new sections have appeared.


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Malovichko, T. (2021). Evolution of teaching the probability theory based on textbook by V. P. Ermakov. History of Science and Technology, 11(2), 300-314. https://doi.org/10.32703/2415-7422-2021-11-2-300-314