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Giaquinto, Marcus
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How can we acquire a grasp of cardinal numbers, even the first very small positive cardinal numbers, given that they are abstract mathematical entities? That problem of cognitive access is the main focus of this paper. All the major rival views about the nature and existence of cardinal numbers face difficulties; and the view most consonant with our normal thought and talk about numbers, the view that cardinal numbers are sizes of sets, runs into the cognitive access problem. The source of the problem is the plausible assumption that cognitive access to something requires causal contact with it. It is argued that this assumption is in fact wrong, and that in this and similar cases we should accept that a certain recognise-and-distinguish capacity is sufficient for cognitive access. We can then go on to solve the cognitive access problem, and thereby support the set-size view of cardinal numbers, by paying attention to empirical findings about basic number abilities. To this end some selected studies of infants, pre-school children and a trained chimpanzee are briefly discussed.

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