Fregean abstraction in Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory: a deflationary account

Abstract. The standard treatment of sets and definable classes in first-order Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory accords in many respects with the Fregean foundational framework, such as the distinction between objects and concepts. Nevertheless, in set theory we may define an explicit association of definable classes with set objects $F\mapsto\varepsilon F$ in such a way, I shall prove, to realize Frege’s Basic Law V as a ZF theorem scheme, Russell notwithstanding. A similar analysis applies to the Cantor-Hume principle and to Fregean abstraction generally. Because these extension and abstraction operators are definable, they provide a deflationary account of Fregean abstraction, one expressible in and reducible to set theory—every assertion in the language of set theory allowing the extension and abstraction operators $\varepsilon F$, $\# G$, $\alpha H$ is equivalent to an assertion not using them. The analysis thus sidesteps Russell’s argument, which is revealed not as a refutation of Basic Law V as such, but rather as a version of Tarski’s theorem on the nondefinability of truth, showing that the proto-truth-predicate “$x$ falls under the concept of which $y$ is the extension” is not expressible.

  • [DOI] J. D. Hamkins, “Fregean abstraction in Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory: a deflationary account,” Mathematics arXiv, 2022.
    author = {Hamkins, Joel David},
    title = {Fregean abstraction in Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory: a deflationary account},
    doi = {10.48550/ARXIV.2209.07845},
    eprint = {2209.07845},
    journal = {Mathematics arXiv},
    year = {2022},
    url = {},

Full text available at arXiv:2209.07845