The math tea argument—must there be numbers we cannot describe or define? Pavia Logic Seminar


This will be a talk for the Philosophy Seminar at the IUSS, Scuola Universitaria Superiore Pavia, 28 September 2022.

(Note: This seminar will be held the day before the related conference Philosophy of Mathematics: Foundations, Definitions and Axioms, Italian Network for the Philosophy of Mathematics, 29 September to 1 October 2022. I shall be speaking at that conference on the topic, Fregean abstraction in set theory, a deflationary account.)

Abstract. According to the math tea argument, perhaps heard at a good afternoon tea, there must be some real numbers that we can neither describe nor define, since there are uncountably many real numbers, but only countably many definitions. Is it correct? In this talk, I shall discuss the phenomenon of pointwise definable structures in mathematics, structures in which every object has a property that only it exhibits. A mathematical structure is Leibnizian, in contrast, if any pair of distinct objects in it exhibit different properties. Is there a Leibnizian structure with no definable elements? We shall discuss many interesting elementary examples, eventually working up to the proof that every countable model of set theory has a pointwise definable extension, in which every mathematical object is definable.

Fregean abstraction in set theory—a deflationary account, Italian Philosophy of Mathematics, September 2022

This will be a talk for the conference Philosophy of Mathematics: Foundations, Definitions and Axioms, the Fourth International Conference of the Italian Network for the Philosophy of Mathematics, 29 September to 1 October 2022.

Abstract. The standard set-theoretic distinction between sets and classes instantiates in important respects the Fregean distinction between objects and concepts, for in set theory we commonly take the universe of sets as a realm of objects to be considered under the guise of diverse concepts, the definable classes, each serving as a predicate on that domain of individuals. Although it is commonly held that in a very general manner, there can be no association of classes with objects in a way that fulfills Frege’s Basic Law V, nevertheless, in the ZF framework, it turns out that we can provide a completely deflationary account of this and other Fregean abstraction principles. Namely, there is a mapping of classes to objects, definable in set theory in senses I shall explain (hence deflationary), associating every first-order parametrically definable class $F$ with a set object $\varepsilon F$, in such a way that Basic Law V is fulfilled: $$\varepsilon F =\varepsilon G\iff\forall x\ (Fx\leftrightarrow Gx).$$ Russell’s elementary refutation of the general comprehension axiom, therefore, is improperly described as a refutation of Basic Law V itself, but rather refutes Basic Law V only when augmented with powerful class comprehension principles going strictly beyond ZF. The main result leads also to a proof of Tarski’s theorem on the nondefinability of truth as a corollary to Russell’s argument. A central goal of the project is to highlight the issue of definability and deflationism for the extension assignment problem at the core of Fregean abstraction.

Nonlinearity and illfoundedness in the hierarchy of consistency strength and the question of naturality, Italy (AILA), September 2022

This will be a talk for the meeting of The Italian Association for Logic and its Applications (AILA) in Caserta, Italy 12-15 September 2022.

Abstract. Set theorists and philosophers of mathematics often point to a mystery in the foundations of mathematics, namely, that our best and strongest mathematical theories seem to be linearly ordered and indeed well-ordered by consistency strength. Why should it be? The phenomenon is thought to carry profound significance for the philosophy of mathematics, perhaps pointing us toward the ultimately correct mathematical theories, the “one road upward.” And yet, we know as a purely formal matter that the hierarchy of consistency strength is not well-ordered. It is ill-founded, densely ordered, and nonlinear. The statements usually used to illustrate these features, however, are often dismissed as unnatural or as Gödelian trickery. In this talk, I aim to rebut that criticism by presenting a variety of natural hypotheses that reveal ill-foundedness in consistency strength, density in the hierarchy of consistency strength, and incomparability in consistency strength.

Set theory inside out: realizing every inner model theory in an end extension, European Set Theory Conference, September 2022

This will be a talk for the European Set Theory Conference 2022 in Turin, Italy 29 August – 2 September 2022.

Abstract. Every countable model of ZFC set theory with an inner model satisfying a sufficient theory must also have an end-extension satisfying that theory. For example, every countable model with a measurable cardinal has an end-extension to a model of $V=L[\mu]$; every model with extender-based large cardinals has an end-extension to a model of $V=L[\vec E]$; every model with infinitely many Woodin cardinals and a measurable above has an end-extension to a model of $\text{ZF}+\text{DC}+V=L(\mathbb{R})+\text{AD}$. These results generalize the famous Barwise extension theorem, of course, asserting that every countable model of ZF set theory admits an end-extension to a model of $\text{ZFC}+{V=L}$, a theorem which was simultaneously a technical culmination of Barwise’s pioneering methods in admissible set theory and infinitary logic and also one of those rare mathematical theorems that is saturated with philosophical significance. In this talk, I shall describe a new proof of the Barwise theorem that omits any need for infinitary logic and relies instead only on classical methods of descriptive set theory, while also providing the generalization I mentioned. This proof furthermore leads directly to the universal finite sequence, a $\Sigma_1$-definable finite sequence, which can be extended arbitrarily as desired in suitable end-extensions of the universe, a result holding important consequences for the nature of set-theoretic potentialism.  This work is joint with Kameryn J. Williams.

  • [DOI] J. D. Hamkins and K. J. Williams, “The $\Sigma_1$-definable universal finite sequence,” Journal of Symbolic Logic, 2021.
    author = {Joel David Hamkins and Kameryn J. Williams},
    title = {The $\Sigma_1$-definable universal finite sequence},
    journal = {Journal of Symbolic Logic},
    year = {2021},
    volume = {},
    number = {},
    pages = {},
    month = {},
    note = {},
    abstract = {},
    keywords = {},
    eprint = {1909.09100},
    archivePrefix = {arXiv},
    primaryClass = {math.LO},
    source = {},
    doi = {10.1017/jsl.2020.59},