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Background In mathematics the concept of quantity is an ancient one extending back to the time of Aristotle and earlier. Aristotle regarded quantity as a fundamental ontological and scientific category. In Aristotle's ontology, quantity or quantum was classified into two different types, which he characterized as follows:

'Quantum' means that which is divisible into two or more constituent parts, of which each is by nature a 'one' and a 'this'. A quantum is a plurality if it is numerable, a magnitude if it is measurable. 'Plurality' means that which is divisible potentially into non-continuous parts, magnitude that which is divisible into continuous parts; of magnitude, that which is continuous in one dimension is length; in two breadth, in three depth. Of these, limited plurality is number, limited length is a line, breadth a surface, depth a solid. (Aristotle, book v, chapters 11-14, Metaphysics).

In his Elements, Euclid developed the theory of ratios of magnitudes without studying the nature of magnitudes, as Archimedes, but giving the following significant definitions:

A magnitude is a part of a magnitude, the less of the greater, when it measures the greater; A ratio is a sort of relation in respect of size between two magnitudes of the same kind.

For Aristotle and Euclid, relations were conceived as whole numbers (Michell, 1993). John Wallis later conceived of ratios of magnitudes as real numbers as reflected in the following:

When a comparison in terms of ratio is made, the resultant ratio often [namely with the exception of the 'numerical genus' itself] leaves the genus of quantities compared, and passes into the numerical genus, whatever the genus of quantities compared may have been. (John Wallis, Mathesis Universalis)

That is, the ratio of magnitudes of any quantity, whether volume, mass, heat and so on, is a number. Following this, Newton then defined number, and the relationship between quantity and number, in the following terms: "By number we understand not so much a multitude of unities, as the abstracted ratio of any quantity to another quantity of the same kind, which we take for unity" (Newton, 1728).


Quantity sections
Intro  Background  Quantitative structure  Quantity in mathematics  Quantity in physical science  Quantity in logic and semantics  Quantity in natural language  Further examples  References   External links   

Background
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