Frege-Russell numbers: Analysis or explication?

In The Analytic Turn. London: Routledge. pp. 33-50 (2007)

Abstract

For both Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell, providing a philosophical account of the concept of number was a central goal, pursued along similar logicist lines. In the present paper, I want to focus on a particular aspect of their accounts: their definitions, or reconstructions, of the natural numbers as equivalence classes of equinumerous classes. In other words, I want to examine what is often called the "Frege-Russell conception of the natural numbers" or, more briefly, the Frege-Russell numbers. My main concern will be to determine the precise sense in which this conception was, or could be, meant to constitute an analysis.1 I will be mostly concerned with Frege’s views on the matter; but Russell will come up along the way, for illustration and comparison, as will some recent neo-Fregean proposals and results. The structure of the paper is as follows: In the first section, I sketch Frege's general approach. Next, I differentiate several kinds, or modes, of analysis, as further background. In the third section, I zero in on the equivalence class construction, raising the question of why it might, from a Fregean point of view, be seen as 'the right' construction, thus as an analysis in a strong sense. In the fourth section, I provide a contrasting, more conventionalist view of the matter, often associated with the Carnapian notion of explication, and expressed in some remarks by Russell. I then discuss the motivation for the Frege-Russell numbers in more depth. In the sixth section, I introduce a neo-Fregean alternative, to be examined along similar lines. Finally, I reflect further on the significance of the kinds of arguments available in this connection.

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Erich Reck
University of California, Riverside

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