Exact Equality and Successor Function: Two Key Concepts on the Path towards understanding Exact Numbers

Philos Psychol. 2008 Aug 1;21(4):491. doi: 10.1080/09515080802285354.


Humans possess two nonverbal systems capable of representing numbers, both limited in their representational power: the first one represents numbers in an approximate fashion, and the second one conveys information about small numbers only. Conception of exact large numbers has therefore been thought to arise from the manipulation of exact numerical symbols. Here, we focus on two fundamental properties of the exact numbers as prerequisites to the concept of exact numbers: the fact that all numbers can be generated by a successor function, and the fact that equality between numbers can be defined in an exact fashion. We discuss some recent findings assessing how speakers of Mundurucu (an Amazonian language), and young western children (3-4 years old) understand these fundamental properties of numbers.