Mathematics

Published on *AskPhilosophers.org* (http://askphilosophers.org)

Mathematics

Hi, I was hoping for some clarification from Professor Maitzen about his comments on infinite sets (on March 7).
The fact that every natural number has a successor is only true for the natural numbers so far encountered (and imagined, I suppose). Granted, I can't conceive of how it could be that we couldn't just add 1 to any natural number to get another one, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. It seems quite strange, but there are some professional mathematicians who claim that the existence of a largest natural number (probably so large that we would never come close to dealing with it) is much less strange and problematic than many of the conclusions that result from the acceptance of infinities.
If we want to define natural numbers such that each natural number by definition has a successor, then mathematical induction tells us there are infinitely many of them. But mathematical induction itself only proves things given certain mathematical definitions. Whether those definitions indeed correspond to reality is another question.
Am I missing something here?
Thanks so much!!