Numbers as quantitative relations and the traditional theory of measurement

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 45 (2):389-406 (1994)
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The thesis that numbers are ratios of quantities has recently been advanced by a number of philosophers. While adequate as a definition of the natural numbers, it is not clear that this view suffices for our understanding of the reals. These require continuous quantity and relative to any such quantity an infinite number of additive relations exist. Hence, for any two magnitudes of a continuous quantity there exists no unique ratio. This problem is overcome by defining ratios, and hence real numbers, as binary relations between infinite standard sequences. This definition leads smoothly into a new definition of measurement consonant with the traditional view of measurement as the discovery or estimation of numerical relations. The traditional view is further strengthened by allowing that the additive relations internal to a quantity are distinct from relations observed in the behaviour of objects manifesting quantities. In this way the traditional theory can accommodate the theory of conjoint measurement. This is worth doing because the traditional theory has one great strength lacked by its rivals: measurement statements and quantitative laws are able to be understood literally. 1 This paper was completed in 1990-1. while the author was a visiting scholar at the Irvine Research Unit in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences. University of California. Irvine. The author wishes to thank the Director. Professor R. D. Luce, for the generous provision of space and facilities within the Unit and for his critical comments upon some of the ideas expressed herein: Professor L. Narens. for his trenchant criticisms: and the University of Sydney, for granting Special Study Leave and financial assistance to make the visit possible.



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