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Another proof of Taylor’s Theorem

In this note, we produce a proof of Taylor’s Theorem. As in many proofs of Taylor’s Theorem, we begin with a curious start and then follow our noses forward.

Is this a new proof? I think so. But I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on it. It’s certainly new to me.

Is this a groundbreaking proof? No, not at all. But it’s cute, and I like it.1

We begin with the following simple observation. Suppose that $f$ is two times continuously differentiable. Then for any $t \neq 0$, we see that \begin{equation} f'(t) – f'(0) = \frac{f'(t) – f'(0)}{t} t. \end{equation} Integrating each side from $0$ to $x$, we find that \begin{equation} f(x) – f(0) – f'(0) x = \int_0^x \frac{f'(t) – f'(0)}{t} t dt. \end{equation} To interpret the integral on the right in a different way, we will use the mean value theorem for integrals.

Mean Value Theorem for Integrals

Suppose that $g$ and $h$ are continuous functions, and that $h$ doesn’t change sign in $[0, x]$. Then there is a $c \in [0, x]$ such that \begin{equation} \int_0^x g(t) h(t) dt = g(c) \int_0^x h(t) dt. \end{equation}

Suppose without loss of generality that $h(t)$ is nonnegative. Since $g$ is continuous on $[0, x]$, it attains its minimum $m$ and maximum $M$ on this interval. Thus \begin{equation} m \int_0^x h(t) dt \leq \int_0^x g(t)h(t)dt \leq M \int_0^x h(t) dt. \end{equation} Let $I = \int_0^x h(t) dt$. If $I = 0$ (or equivalently, if $h(t) \equiv 0$), then the theorem is trivially true, so suppose instead that $I \neq 0$. Then \begin{equation} m \leq \frac{1}{I} \int_0^x g(t) h(t) dt \leq M. \end{equation} By the intermediate value theorem, $g(t)$ attains every value between $m$ and $M$, and thus there exists some $c$ such that \begin{equation} g(c) = \frac{1}{I} \int_0^x g(t) h(t) dt. \end{equation} Rearranging proves the theorem.

For this application, let $g(t) = (f'(t) – f'(0))/t$ for $t \neq 0$, and $g(0) =f'{}'(0)$. The continuity of $g$ at $0$ is exactly the condition that $f'{}'(0)$exists. We also let $h(t) = t$.

For $x > 0$, it follows from the mean value theorem for integrals that there exists a $c \in [0, x]$ such that \begin{equation} \int_0^x \frac{f'(t) – f'(0)}{t} t dt = \frac{f'(c) – f'(0)}{c} \int_0^x t dt = \frac{f'(c) – f'(0)}{c} \frac{x^2}{2}. \end{equation} (Very similar reasoning applies for $x < 0$). Finally, by the mean value theorem (applied to $f’$), there exists a point $\xi \in (0, c)$ such that \begin{equation} f'{}'(\xi) = \frac{f'(c) – f'(0)}{c}. \end{equation} Putting this together, we have proved that there is a $\xi \in (0, x)$ such that \begin{equation} f(x) – f(0) – f'(0) x = f'{}'(\xi) \frac{x^2}{2}, \end{equation} which is one version of Taylor’s Theorem with a linear approximating polynomial.

This approach generalizes. Suppose $f$ is a $(k+1)$ times continuously differentiable function, and begin with the trivial observation that \begin{equation} f^{(k)}(t) – f^{(k)}(0) = \frac{f^{(k)}(t) – f^{(k)}(0)}{t} t. \end{equation} Iteratively integrate $k$ times: first from $0$ to $t_1$, then from $0$ to $t_2$, and so on, with the $k$th interval being from $0$ to $t_k = x$.

Then the left hand side becomes \begin{equation} f(x) – \sum_{n = 0}^k f^{(n)}(0)\frac{x^n}{n!}, \end{equation} the difference between $f$ and its degree $k$ Taylor polynomial. The right hand side is
\begin{equation}\label{eq:only}\underbrace{\int _0^{t_k = x} \cdots \int _0^{t _1}} _{k \text{ times}} \frac{f^{(k)}(t) – f^{(k)}(0)}{t} t \, dt \, dt _1 \cdots dt _{k-1}.\end{equation}

To handle this, we note the following variant of the mean value theorem for integrals.

Mean value theorem for iterated integrals

Suppose that $g$ and $h$ are continuous functions, and that $h$ doesn’t change sign in $[0, x]$. Then there is a $c \in [0, x]$ such that \begin{equation} \underbrace{\int_0^{t _k=x} \cdots \int _0^{t _1}} _{k \; \text{times}} g(t) h(t) dt =g(c) \underbrace{\int _0^{t _k=x} \cdots \int _0^{t _1}} _{k \; \text{times}} h(t) dt. \end{equation}

In fact, this can be proved in almost exactly the same way as in the single-integral version, so we do not repeat the proof.

With this theorem, there is a $c \in [0, x]$ such that we see that \eqref{eq:only} can be written as \begin{equation} \frac{f^{(k)}(c) – f^{(k)}(0)}{c} \underbrace{\int _0^{t _k = x} \cdots \int _0^{t _1}} _{k \; \text{times}} t \, dt \, dt _1 \cdots dt _{k-1}. \end{equation} By the mean value theorem, the factor in front of the integrals can be written as $f^{(k+1)}(\xi)$ for some $\xi \in (0, x)$. The integrals can be directly evaluated to be $x^{k+1}/(k+1)! $.

Thus overall, we find that \begin{equation} f(x) = \sum_{n = 0}^n f^{(n)}(0) \frac{x^n}{n!} + f^{(k+1)}(\xi) \frac{x^{k+1}}{(k+1)!} \end{equation} for some $\xi \in (0, x)$. Thus we have proved Taylor’s Theorem (with Lagrange’s error bound).

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Notes from a talk on the Mean Value Theorem

1. Introduction

When I first learned the Mean Value Theorem and the Intermediate Value Theorem, I thought they were both intuitively obvious and utterly useless. In one of my courses in analysis, I was struck when, after proving the Mean Value Theorem, my instructor said that all of calculus was downhill from there. But it was a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees, and I missed the big picture.

I have since come to realize that almost every major (and often, minor) result of calculus is a direct and immediate consequence of the Mean Value Theorem and the Intermediate Value Theorem. In this talk, we will focus on the forest, the big picture, and see the Mean Value Theorem for what it really is: the true Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.


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