One and Many

“Many” has two meanings:

  1. That which is divided, namely something and something else such that the something is not the something else. Taken in this way, the idea of many comes before the idea of one, because many in this sense is simply defined by distinction.
  2. A whole composed of ones as parts. In this sense many comes after one.

Using the second definition, we can define numbers according to what sort of parts they have. Thus for example two is something many in the second way, such that it does not have any part which is itself many. Similarly, three is something many such that it has a part which is two, but does not have any part which has a part which is two. One can define other numbers in a similar way. Of course such definitions will quickly become nearly unintelligible as one increases the value of the number. This is not so much a problem with this kind of definition, as a sign of the fact that numbers are not very intelligible to us in themselves, and that we grasp them in practice mainly by the use of the imagination.

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