Archive for History of Exact Sciences

, Volume 65, Issue 3, pp 295–342

Stability of trajectories from Poincaré to Birkhoff: approaching a qualitative definition

Open AccessArticle

DOI: 10.1007/s00407-011-0079-0

Cite this article as:
Roque, T. Arch. Hist. Exact Sci. (2011) 65: 295. doi:10.1007/s00407-011-0079-0


The article investigates the different conceptions of stability found in qualitative studies on the solutions of differential equations. We start from the definitions proposed by Poincaré and criticized by Birkhoff for not being fully qualitative, and show that the clarification of the criterion for stating that a property is qualitative comes precisely with Birkhoff. In addition, we note that the stability conceptions of Lyapunov and Levi-Civita are also important in this transition from the appearance of the first qualitative tools in the study of differential equations to the definition of stability in use in dynamical systems theory. The history of stability can help to explain the meaning of the word “qualitative” in this context.

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© The Author(s) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de MatemáticaUniversidade Federal do Rio de JaneiroRio de JaneiroBrazil