The Case of the Reals
This chapter considers two crucial shifts in mathematical knowledge: the natural numbers ℕ and the real number system ℝ. ℝ has proved to serve together with the natural numbers ℕ as one of the two core structures of mathematics; together they are what Solomon Feferman described as “the sine qua non of our subject, both pure and applied.” Indeed, nobody can claim to have a basic grasp of mathematics without mastery of the central elements in the theory of both number systems. The chapter examines related theories and conceptions about real numbers, with particular emphasis on the work of J. H. Lambert and Sir Isaac Newton. It also discusses various conceptions of the number continuum, assumptions about simple infinity and arbitrary infinity, and the development of mathematics in relation to the real numbers. Finally, it reflects on the link between mathematical hypotheses and scientific practices.
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