Down with Determinants!
Abstract: This paper shows how linear algebra can be done better without determinants. The standard proof that a square matrix of complex numbers has an eigenvalue uses determinants. The simpler and clearer proof presented here provides more insight and avoids determinants. Without using determinants, this allows us to define the multiplicity of an eigenvalue and to prove that the number of eigenvalues, counting multiplicities, equals the dimension of the underlying space. Without using determinants, we can define the characteristic and minimal polynomials and then prove that they behave as expected. This leads to an easy proof that every matrix is similar to a nice uppertriangular one. Turning to inner product spaces, and still without mentioning determinants, this paper gives a simple proof of the finitedimensional spectral theorem.
This paper was published in the American Mathematical Monthly 102 (1995), 139154.
In 1996 this paper received the Lester R. Ford Award for expository writing from the Mathematical Association of America.
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