MacLaurin, Colin

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MacLaurin, Colin (1698-1747): Scottish Mathematician.

Colin MacLaurin was Professor of Mathematics at Marischal College in Aberdeen and at Edinburgh University. He was born in the village of Glendaruel in the Cowal Peninsula of western Scotland in 1698. His mother died soon after his birth, and his father died in 1707, whereafter he was raised by an uncle in Argyll. When Maclaurin died in 1746 he was an eminent mathematician. In 1745 he organized an unsuccessful defense of Edinburgh against the army of the Pretender, and he died the following year in England.

Maclaurin graduated at 15 from the University of Glasgow. In 1717, at the age of 19, he assumed the chair of mathematics at the University of Aberdeen, and he moved to the University of Edinburgh in 1725 (Newton recommended him for the position). He was active in trying to give a more rigorous foundation for the calculus. Maclauren published Geometria Organica in London in 1720, and in his Treatise of Fluxions (Edinburgh 1742) he supported Newton’s fluxional calculus, which, because of his support, long dominated British mathematics, against the attacks of Bishop Berkeley.

Maclaurin is perhaps best remembered for his work on Taylor’s series:


Maclaurin’s series, found in his Treatise of Fluxions, # 751, is a special case of Taylor’s:


These series were used to create trigonometric and logarithmic tables and other approximations.

Further Reading:

E F Robertson; Richard Devéria, Colin MacLaurin (1698-1746) : Argyllshires’s mathematician, 2000.

Paul Beidler