Original Research

Accounting for primitive terms in mathematics

D.F.M. Strauss
Koers - Bulletin for Christian Scholarship/Bulletin vir Christelike Wetenskap | Vol 70, No 3 | a281 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koers.v70i3.281 | © 2005 D.F.M. Strauss | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 July 2005 | Published: 31 July 2005

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D.F.M. Strauss, Facultly of Humanities, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

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The philosophical problem of unity and diversity entails a challenge to the rationalist aim to define everything. Definitions of this kind surface in various academic disciplines in formulations like uniqueness, irreducibility, and what has acquired the designation “primitive terms”. Not even the most “exact” disciplines, such as mathematics, can avoid the implications entailed in giving an account of such primitive terms. A mere look at the historical development of mathematics highlights the fact that alternative perspectives prevailed – from the arithmeticism of Pythagoreanism, the eventual geometrisation of mathematics after the discovery of incommensurability up to the revival of arithmeticism in the mathematics of Cauchy, Weierstrass, Dedekind and Cantor (with the later orientation of Frege, who completed the circle by returning to the view that mathematics essentially is geometry). An assessment of logicism and axiomatic formalism is followed by looking at the primitive meaning of wholeness (and the whole-parts relation). With reference to the views of Hilbert, Weyl and Bernays the article concludes by suggesting that in opposition to arithmeticism and geometricism an alternative option ought to be pursued – one in which both the uniqueness and mutual coherence between the aspects of number and space are acknowledged.


Arithmeticism; Geometricism; Mutual Coherence; Primitive Basic Terms; Uniqueness; Whole-Parts Relation


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