Buijsman, Stefan & Bahram Assadian | 2019

*Philosophy and Phenomenological Research* 99 (3), 564-580

There are two ways of thinking about the natural numbers: as ordinal numbers or as cardinal numbers. It is, moreover, well‐known that the cardinal numbers can be defined in terms of the ordinal numbers. Some philosophies of mathematics have taken this as a reason to hold the ordinal numbers as (metaphysically) fundamental. By discussing structuralism and neo‐logicism we argue that one can empirically distinguish between accounts that endorse this fundamentality claim and those that do not. In particular, we argue that if the ordinal numbers are metaphysically fundamental then it follows that one cannot acquire cardinal number concepts without appeal to ordinal notions. On the other hand, without this fundamentality thesis that would be possible. This allows for an empirical test to see which account best describes our actual mathematical practices. We then, finally, discuss some empirical data that suggests that we can acquire cardinal number concepts without using ordinal notions. However, there are some important gaps left open by this data that we point to as areas for future empirical research.