Steps Towards a Minimalist Account of Numbers

Mind 131 (523):863-891 (2021)
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Abstract

This paper outlines an account of numbers based on the numerical equivalence schema, which consists of all sentences of the form ‘#x.Fx=n if and only if ∃nx Fx’, where # is the number-of operator and ∃n is defined in standard Russellian fashion. In the first part of the paper, I point out some analogies between the NES and the T-schema for truth. In light of these analogies, I formulate a minimalist account of numbers, based on the NES, which strongly parallels the minimalist account of truth. One may be tempted to develop the minimalist account in a fictionalist direction, according to which arithmetic is useful but untrue, if taken at face value. In the second part, I argue that this suggestion is not as attractive as it may first appear. The NES suffers from a similar problem to the T-schema: it is deductively weak and does not enable the derivation of any non-trivial generalizations. In the third part of the paper, I explore some strategies to deal with the generalization problem, again drawing inspiration from the literature on truth. In closing this paper, I briefly compare the minimalist to some other accounts of numbers.

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Thomas Schindler
University of Amsterdam

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