The Case For Numbers

Heinrich Hertz (yes, he who gave his name to the unit of frequency) wrote that

A Detour Into A Cave

Imagine you’re a prisoner in a cave, unable to turn your head, staring at the wall ahead. There’s a fire behind you, illuminating the wall, and between you and the fire a stage where puppeteers cast shapes against the wall. You’ve never known any different — this is your reality.

But… Why?

That’s pretty crazy. Think about it. The number “1” exists. So does “586”. So does the value of Pi. In fact, this leads to an actual infinitude of objects. This bothers some philosophers less than others, but I personally find this ontologically offensive (or: dramatically inconsistent with aspects of metaphysics I see a certain way) for a number of reasons I won’t get into here.

The Case Against Numbers

“Logic and mathematics are nothing but specialised linguistic structures” — Jean Piaget

Nominalism

It might be a little bit too big a pill to swallow to admit that mathematical entities are real.

Fictionalism

“I went to the University of Nottingham”.

So… What’s the answer?

It rather depends on what other things you believe!

I write about business, marketing, tech and philosophy. You can read my full, somewhat eclectic blog at www.ruth-ng.co.uk.

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