Cognitive Structuralism: Explaining the Regularity of the Natural Numbers Progression

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 13 (1):127-149 (2021)


According to one of the most powerful paradigms explaining the meaning of the concept of natural number, natural numbers get a large part of their conceptual content from core cognitive abilities. Carey’s bootstrapping provides a model of the role of core cognition in the creation of mature mathematical concepts. In this paper, I conduct conceptual analyses of various theories within this paradigm, concluding that the theories based on the ability to subitize, or on the ability to approximate quantities, or both, fail to provide a conceptual basis for bootstrapping the concept of an exact natural number. In particular, I argue that none of the existing theories explains one of the key characteristics of the natural number structure: the equidistances between successive elements of the natural numbers progression. I suggest that this regularity could be based on another innate cognitive ability, namely sensitivity to the regularity of rhythm. In the final section, I propose a new position within the core cognition paradigm, inspired by structuralist positions in philosophy of mathematics.

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Paula Quinon
Lund University

References found in this work

Word and Object.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1960 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Logical Foundations of Probability.Rudolf Carnap - 1950 - Chicago, IL, USA: Chicago University of Chicago Press.
The Origin of Concepts.Susan Carey - 2009 - Oxford University Press.

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Citations of this work

Situated Counting.Peter Gärdenfors & Paula Quinon - 2020 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 12 (4):1-24.
Situated Counting.Peter Gärdenfors & Paula Quinon - 2021 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 12 (4):721-744.

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