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Actualizing Infinity: Georg

Cantor and the Development

of Transfinite Numbers
By Canova Kutuk

Georg Cantor [1845-1918]

Taught at a high school level, then took a
teaching position at the University of Halle
Inventor of set theory and transfinite
cardinal numbers
Established the importance of one-to-one
correspondence between two sets, defined
infinite and well ordered sets, and proved
that the set of real numbers is larger than
the set of natural numbers.
Infinity of infinities his work on cardinal
arithmetic incited a lot of reaction from
mathematicians, philosophers, and

What is infinity?

Infinity Before

Metaphor used by theologians metaphysical infinity

For you [God] are infinite and never change. In you 'today'
never comes to an end: and yet our 'today' does come to
an end in you, because time, as well as everything else,
exists in you. If it did not, it would have no means of
passing. And since your years never come to an end, for
you they are simply 'today'...But you yourself are eternally
the same. In your 'today' you will make all that is to exist
tomorrow and thereafter, and in your 'today' you have
made all that existed yesterday and for ever before.
-St. Augustine of Hippo [354-430AD]

Does there exist an Infinity outside ourselves? Is that

infinity One, immanent and permanent, necessarily
having substance, since He is infinite and if He lacked
matter He would be limited, necessarily possessing
intelligence since He is infinite and, lacking intelligence,
He would be in that sense finite. Does this Infinity
inspire in us the idea of essense, while to ourselves we
can only attribute the idea of existence? In order words,
is He not the whole of which we are but the part?
- Victor Hugo [1802-1885]

Mathematical conception of infinity

Paradox of Zeno

Infinity before Cantor continued

A quantity larger than other quantities potential
Cannot be actualized
the infinite has a potential existence There will not be an actual
infinite Aristotle in Physics
I must protest most vehemently against your use of the infinite as
something consummated, as this is never permitted in
mathematics. The infinite is but a facon de parler, meaning a limit
to which certain ratios may approach as closely as desired when
others are permitted to increase indefinitely. C.F. Gauss in a letter
to Schumacher dated 1831

Some definitions:
A simple definition of a set, S, is a collection of objects.
S:= {0, 1, 2, 3, 4}
S:= {blue, yellow, red}
S:= {0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, }
A subset is a portion of a set. A proper subset is a set other than
the set itself. For example, the set of even integers is a subset of the

The cardinality, or cardinal number, of a set measures
the size of the set the number of elements.
S:= {3, 6, 9}
What about the cardinality of a set with an infinite
number of elements?
Cantor provided a more rigorous definition:
- Two sets have the same cardinality if there exists a
bijection between them

A set S is said to be denumerable (countable) iff it can be put into a oneto-one correspondence with the set of natural numbers {1, 2, 3, 4, }.
Some denumerable sets:
- Set of all integers
- Set of all even integers
- Set of all odd integers
- Set of all rational numbers
- Set of all primes numbers
- Set of all composite numbers

These sets have cardinal number

Cantor showed that the set of real numbers is non-denumerable. They
have a greater cardinality denoted by C.

Higher Infinities
Cantor showed that some sets have a higher cardinality
than C.
A power set is the set of all subsets of a set with n
elements. It has elements.
The cardinalities
transfinite cardinal numbers
Infinite hierarchy of infinite sets!

are known as

Transfinite Arithmetic

Cantor went on to prove that

And since , there is no largest cardinal number!
Continuum Hypothesis brought forward by Cantor.
The first one of Hilberts 23 mathematical problems
Generalized: No transfinite cardinal exists between
, , between
so on.
Shown to be unsolvable.


Works Cited
Dauben, Joseph Warren.Georg Cantor: His Mathematics and Philosophy of
the Infinite. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1979. Print.
Macgregor, Peter. "A Glimpse of Cantor's Paradise."Plus Magazine. 31 May.
2008. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
Maor, Eli.To Infinity and Beyond: A Cultural History of the Infinite. Princeton
(NJ): Princeton UP, 1991. Print.
Reid, Constance.Hilbert. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1970. Print.
Yarnelle, John E.An Introduction to Transfinite Mathematics. Boston: Heath,
1964. Print.