A deflationary account of Fregean abstraction in set theory, with Basic Law V as a ZFC theorem, Paris PhilMath Intersem 2023

This will be a talk for the Axe Histoire et Philosophie des mathématiques, Séminaire PhilMath Intersem 2023,  a collaborative event sponsored by the University of Notre Dame and le laboratoire SPHERE, Paris. The Intersem runs several weeks, but my talk will be 9 June.

Abstract. The 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 εF, in such a way that Basic Law V is fulfilled:  

   εF=εG ⇔ ∀x (Fx ⇔ 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, one amounting, I argue, to a truth predicate in Frege’s system. The main result therefore leads to a proof of Tarski’s theorem on the nondefinability of truth as a corollary to Russell’s argument, independently of Gödel. 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.

Set theory with abundant urelements, STUK 10, Oxford, June 2023

This will be a talk for the Set Theory in the UK, STUK 10, held in Oxford 14 June 2023, organized by my students Clara List, Emma Palmer, and Wojciech Wołoszyn.

Abstract. I shall speak on the surprising strength of the second-order reflection principle in the context of set theory with abundant urelements. The theory GBcU with the abundant urelement axiom and second-order reflection is bi-interpretable with a strengthening of KM with a supercompact cardinal. This is joint work with Bokai Yao.

Pseudo-countable models

[bibtex key=”Hamkins:Pseudo-countable-models”]

Download pdf at arXiv:2210.04838

Abstract. Every mathematical structure has an elementary extension to a pseudo-countable structure, one that is seen as countable inside a suitable class model of set theory, even though it may actually be uncountable. This observation, proved easily with the Boolean ultrapower theorem, enables a sweeping generalization of results concerning countable models to a rich realm of uncountable models. The Barwise extension theorem, for example, holds amongst the pseudo-countable models—every pseudo-countable model of ZF admits an end extension to a model of ZFC+V=L. Indeed, the class of pseudo-countable models is a rich multiverse of set-theoretic worlds, containing elementary extensions of any given model of set theory and closed under forcing extensions and interpreted models, while simultaneously fulfilling the Barwise extension theorem, the Keisler-Morley theorem, the resurrection theorem, and the universal finite sequence theorem, among others.

Self-similar self-similarity, in The Language of Symmetry

A playful account of symmetry, contributed as a chapter to a larger work, The Language of Symmetry, edited by Benedict Rattigan, Denis Noble, and Afiq Hatta, a collection of essays on symmetry that were also the basis of an event at the British Museum, The Language of Symmetry.

[bibtex key=”Hamkins2023:Self-similar-self-similarity”]

Pre-order the book at: https://www.routledge.com/The-Language-of-Symmetry/Rattigan-Noble-Hatta/p/book/9781032303949

My essay is available here:

Abstract. Let me tell a mathematician’s tale about symmetry. We begin with playful curiosity about a concrete elementary case—the symmetries of the letters of the alphabet, for instance. Seeking the essence of symmetry, however, we are pushed toward abstraction, to other shapes and higher dimensions. Beyond the geometric figures, we consider the symmetries of an arbitrary mathematical structure—why not the symmetries of the symmetries? And then, of course, we shall have the symmetries of the symmetries of the symmetries, and so on, iterating transfinitely. Amazingly, this process culminates in a sublime self-similar group of symmetries that is its own symmetry group, a self-similar self-similarity.

Download my essay for more…or order the book for the complete set!

Every countable model of arithmetic or set theory has a pointwise definable end extension

[bibtex key=”Hamkins:Every-countable-model-of-arithmetic-or-set-theory-has-a-pointwise-definable-end-extension”]


Abstract. According to the math tea argument, there must be real numbers that we cannot describe or define, because there are uncountably many real numbers, but only countably many definitions. And yet, the existence of pointwise definable models of set theory, in which every individual is definable without parameters, challenges this conclusion. In this article, I introduce a flexible new method for constructing pointwise definable models of arithmetic and set theory, showing furthermore that every countable model of Zermelo-Fraenkel ZF set theory and of Peano arithmetic PA has a pointwise-definable end extension. In the arithmetic case, I use the universal algorithm and its $\Sigma_n$ generalizations to build a progressively elementary tower making any desired individual $a_n$ definable at each stage $n$, while preserving these definitions through to the limit model, which can thus be arranged to be pointwise definable. A similar method works in set theory, and one can moreover achieve $V=L$ in the extension or indeed any other suitable theory holding in an inner model of the original model, thereby fulfilling the resurrection phenomenon. For example, every countable model of ZF with an inner model with a measurable cardinal has an end extension to a pointwise-definable model of $\text{ZFC}+V=L[\mu]$.

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.

[bibtex key=”Hamkins:Fregean-abstraction-deflationary-account”]

Full text available at arXiv:2209.07845

Nonlinearity and illfoundedness in the hierarchy of large cardinal consistency strength

[bibtex key=”Hamkins:Nonlinearity-in-the-hierarchy-of-large-cardinal-consistency-strength”]


Abstract. Many set theorists point to the linearity phenomenon in the hierarchy of consistency strength, by which natural theories tend to be linearly ordered and indeed well ordered by consistency strength. Why should it be linear? In this paper I present counterexamples, natural instances of nonlinearity and illfoundedness in the hierarchy of large cardinal consistency strength, as natural or as nearly natural as I can make them. I present diverse cautious enumerations of ZFC and large cardinal set theories, which exhibit incomparability and illfoundedness in consistency strength, and yet, I argue, are natural. I consider the philosophical role played by “natural” in the linearity phenomenon, arguing ultimately that we should abandon empty naturality talk and aim instead to make precise the mathematical and logical features we had found desirable.

Reflection in second-order set theory with abundant urelements bi-interprets a supercompact cardinal

[bibtex key=”HamkinsYao:Reflection-in-second-order-set-theory-with-abundant-urelements”]

Download pdf at arXiv:2204.09766

Abstract. After reviewing various natural bi-interpretations in urelement set theory, including second-order set theories with urelements, we explore the strength of second-order reflection in these contexts. Ultimately, we prove, second-order reflection with the abundant atom axiom is bi-interpretable and hence also equiconsistent with the existence of a supercompact cardinal. The proof relies on a reflection characterization of supercompactness, namely, a cardinal $\kappa$ is supercompact if and only if every $\Pi^1_1$ sentence true in a structure $M$ (of any size) containing $\kappa$ in a language of size less than $\kappa$ is also true in a substructure $m\prec M$ of size less than $\kappa$ with $m\cap\kappa\in\kappa$.

See also my talk at the CUNY Set Theory Seminar: The surprising strength of reflection in second-order set theory with abundant urelements

Infinite Wordle and the Mastermind numbers

[bibtex key=”Hamkins:Infinite-Wordle-and-the-mastermind-numbers”]

Download article at arXiv:2203.06804

Abstract. I consider the natural infinitary variations of the games Wordle and Mastermind, as well as their game-theoretic variations Absurdle and Madstermind, considering these games with infinitely long words and infinite color sequences and allowing transfinite game play. For each game, a secret codeword is hidden, which the codebreaker attempts to discover by making a series of guesses and receiving feedback as to their accuracy. In Wordle with words of any size from a finite alphabet of $n$ letters, including infinite words or even uncountable words, the codebreaker can nevertheless always win in $n$ steps. Meanwhile, the mastermind number 𝕞, defined as the smallest winning set of guesses in infinite Mastermind for sequences of length $\omega$ over a countable set of colors without duplication, is uncountable, but the exact value turns out to be independent of ZFC, for it is provably equal to the eventually different number $\frak{d}({\neq^*})$, which is the same as the covering number of the meager ideal $\text{cov}(\mathcal{M})$. I thus place all the various mastermind numbers, defined for the natural variations of the game, into the hierarchy of cardinal characteristics of the continuum.

Infinite Hex is a draw

[bibtex key=”HamkinsLeonessi:Infinite-Hex-is-a-draw”]

Download the article at https://arxiv.org/abs/2201.06475.

Abstract. We introduce the game of infinite Hex, extending the familiar finite game to natural play on the infinite hexagonal lattice. Whereas the finite game is a win for the first player, we prove in contrast that infinite Hex is a draw—both players have drawing strategies. Meanwhile, the transfinite game-value phenomenon, now abundantly exhibited in infinite chess and infinite draughts, regrettably does not arise in infinite Hex; only finite game values occur. Indeed, every game-valued position in infinite Hex is intrinsically local, meaning that winning play depends only on a fixed finite region of the board. This latter fact is proved under very general hypotheses, establishing the conclusion for all simple stone-placing games.

This is my second joint project with Davide Leonessi, the first being our work on Transfinite games values in infinite draughts, both projects growing out of his work on his MSc in MFoCS at Oxford, for which he earned a distinction in September 2021.

Here is a convenient online Hex player, for those who want to improve their game: http://www.lutanho.net/play/hex.html.

Transfinite game values in infinite draughts

A joint paper with Davide Leonessi, in which we prove that every countable ordinal arises as the game value of a position in infinite draughts, and this result is optimal for games having countably many options at each move. In short, the omega one of infinite draughts is true omega one.

[bibtex key=”HamkinsLeonessi:Transfinite-game-values-in-infinite-draughts”]

Download the paper at arXiv:2111.02053

Abstract. Infinite draughts, or checkers, is played just like the finite game, but on an infinite checkerboard extending without bound in all four directions. We prove that every countable ordinal arises as the game value of a position in infinite draughts. Thus, there are positions from which Red has a winning strategy enabling her to win always in finitely many moves, but the length of play can be completely controlled by Black in a manner as though counting down from a given countable ordinal.

Is the twin prime conjecture independent of Peano Arithmetic?

[bibtex key=”BerarducciFornasieroHamkins:Is-the-twin-prime-conjecture-independent-of-PA”]

Download the article at arXiv:2110.08640

Abstract. We show that there is an arithmetical formula $\varphi$ such that ZF proves that $\varphi$ is independent of PA and yet, unlike other arithmetical independent statements, the truth value of $\varphi$ cannot at present be established in ZF or in any other trusted metatheory. In fact we can choose an example of such a formula $\varphi$ such that ZF proves that $\varphi$ is equivalent to the twin prime conjecture. We conclude with a discussion of notion of trustworthy theory and a sharper version of the result.

This work grows in part out of an answer I posted on MathOverflow in 2012.

Book review, Catarina Dutilh Novaes, The dialogical roots of deduction

In this insightful and remarkable work, Professor Novaes defends and explores at length the philosophical thesis that mathematical proof and deduction generally has a fundamentally dialogical nature, proceeding in a back-and-forth dialogue between two semi-adversarial but collaborative actors, the Prover and the Skeptic, who together aim to find mathematical insight. This view of proof-as-dialogue, she argues, carries explanatory power for the philosophy of mathematical practice, explaining diverse aspects of proof-writing, refereeing, and more, including the multifaceted roles of proof, including proof as verification, proof as certification, proof for communication and persuasion, proof as explanation, and proof as a driver of mathematical innovation.

In extensive, refined scholarly work, Novaes explores the historical and intellectual roots of the dialogical perspective on deduction, tracing the idea from ancient times through medieval philosophy and into the present day, including case studies of current mathematical developments, such as Mochizuki’s claimed proof of the abc conjecture, as well as recent psychological experiments on the role of group reasoning in resolving certain well-known disappointing failures of rationality, such as in the Wason card experiment. Truly fascinating.

On the basis of her work, I have nominated Novaes for the Lakatos Award (given annually “for an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of science, widely interpreted, in the form of a book published in English during the current year or the previous five years”). Lakatos himself, of course, was a friend of dialogical mathematics—his famous Proofs and Refutations proceeds after all in a dialogue between mathematicians of different philosophical outlooks. Novaes engages with Lakatos’s work explicitly, pointing out the obvious parallels, but also highlighting important differences between her Prover/Skeptic dialogical account and the kind of proof dialogues appearing in Proofs and Refutations. In light of this connection with Lakatos, I would find it especially fitting for Novaes to win the Lakatos Award.

My review on GoodReads

Nonlinearity in the hierarchy of large cardinal consistency strength

This is currently a draft version only of my article-in-progress on the topic of linearity in the hierarchy of consistency strength, especially with large cardinals. Comments are very welcome, since I am still writing the article. Please kindly send me comments by email or just post here.

This article will be the basis of the Weeks 7 & 8 discussion in the Graduate Philosophy of Logic seminar I am currently running with Volker Halbach at Oxford in Hilary term 2021.

I present instances of nonlinearity and illfoundedness in the hierarchy of large cardinal consistency strength—as natural or as nearly natural as I can make them—and consider philosophical aspects of the question of naturality with regard to this phenomenon.

It is a mystery often mentioned in the foundations of mathematics, a fundamental phenomenon to be explained, that our best and strongest mathematical theories seem to be linearly ordered and indeed well-ordered by consistency strength. Given any two of the familiar large cardinal hypotheses, for example, generally one of them will prove the consistency of the other.

Why should it be linear? Why should the large cardinal notions line up like this, when they often arise from completely different mathematical matters? Measurable cardinals arise from set-theoretic issues in measure theory; Ramsey cardinals generalize ideas in graph coloring combinatorics; compact cardinals arise with compactness properties of infinitary logic. Why should these disparate considerations lead to principles that are linearly related by direct implication and consistency strength?

The phenomenon is viewed by many in the philosophy of mathematics as significant in our quest for mathematical truth. In light of Gödel incompleteness, after all, we must eternally seek to strengthen even our best and strongest theories. Is the linear hierarchy of consistency strength directing us along the elusive path, the “one road upward” as John Steel describes it, toward the final, ultimate mathematical truth? That is the tantalizing possibility.

Meanwhile, we do know as a purely formal matter that the hierarchy of consistency strength is not actually well-ordered—it is ill-founded, densely ordered, and nonlinear. The statements usually used to illustrate these features, however, are weird self-referential assertions constructed in the Gödelian manner via the fixed-point lemma—logic-game trickery, often dismissed as unnatural.

Many set theorists claim that amongst the natural assertions, consistency strengths remain linearly ordered and indeed well ordered. H. Friedman refers to “the apparent comparability of naturally occurring logical strengths as one of the great mysteries of [the foundations of mathematics].” Andrés Caicedo says,

It is a remarkable empirical phenomenon that we indeed have comparability for natural theories. We expect this to always be the case, and a significant amount of work in inner model theory is guided by this belief.

Stephen G. Simpson writes:

It is striking that a great many foundational theories are linearly ordered by <. Of course it is possible to construct pairs of artificial theories which are incomparable under <. However, this is not the case for the “natural” or non-artificial theories which are usually regarded as significant in the foundations of mathematics. The problem of explaining this observed regularity is a challenge for future foundational research.

John Steel writes “The large cardinal hypotheses [the ones we know] are themselves wellordered by consistency strength,” and he formulates what he calls the “vague conjecture” asserting that

If T is a natural extension of ZFC, then there is an extension H axiomatized by large cardinal hypotheses such that T ≡ Con H. Moreover, ≤ Con is a prewellorder of the natural extensions of ZFC. In particular, if T and U are natural extensions of ZFC, then either T ≤ Con U or U ≤ Con T.

Peter Koellner writes

Remarkably, it turns out that when one restricts to those theories that “arise in nature” the interpretability ordering is quite simple: There are no descending chains and there are no incomparable elements—the interpretability ordering on theories that “arise in nature” is a wellordering.

Let me refer to this position as the natural linearity position, the assertion that all natural assertions of mathematics are linearly ordered by consistency strength. The strong form of the position, asserted by some of those whom I have cited above, asserts that the natural assertions of mathematics are indeed well-ordered by consistency strength. By all accounts, this view appears to be widely held in large cardinal set theory and the philosophy of set theory.

Despite the popularity of this position, I should like in this article to explore the contrary view and directly to challenge the natural linearity position.

Main Question. Can we find natural instances of nonlinearity and illfoundedness in the hierarchy of consistency strength?

I shall try my best.

You have to download the article to see my candidates for natural instances of nonlinearity in the hierarchy of large cardinal consistency strength, but I can tease you a little by mentioning that there are various cautious enumerations of the ZFC axioms which actually succeed in enumerating all the ZFC axioms, but with a strictly weaker consistency strength than the usual (incautious) enumeration. And similarly there are various cautious versions of the large cardinal hypothesis, which are natural, but also incomparable in consistency strength.

(Please note that it was Uri Andrews, rather than Uri Abraham, who settled question 16 with the result of theorem 17. I have corrected this from an earlier draft.)

Proof and the Art of Mathematics: Examples and Extensions

A companion volume to my proof-writing book, Proof and the Art of Mathematics.

[bibtex key=”Hamkins2021:Proof-and-the-art-examples”]

Now available!

From the Preface:

The best way to learn mathematics is to dive in and do it. Don’t just listen passively to a lecture or read a book—you have got to take hold of the mathematical ideas yourself! Mount your own mathematical analysis. Formulate your own mathematical assertions. Consider your own mathematical examples. I recommend play—adopt an attitude of playful curiosity about mathematical ideas; grasp new concepts by exploring them in particular cases; try them out; understand how the mathematical constructions from your proofs manifest in your examples; explore all facets, going beyond whatever had been expected. You will find vast new lands of imagination. Let one example generalize to a whole class of examples; have favorite examples. Ask questions about the examples or about the mathematical idea you are investigating. Formulate conjectures and test them with your examples. Try to prove the conjectures—when you succeed, you will have proved a theorem. The essential mathematical activity is to make clear claims and provide sound reasons for them. Express your mathematical ideas to others, and practice the skill of stating matters well, succinctly, with accuracy and precision. Don’t be satisfied with your initial account, even when it is sound, but seek to improve it. Find alternative arguments, even when you already have a solid proof. In this way, you will come to a deeper understanding. Test the statements of others; ask for further explanation. Look into the corner cases of your results to probe the veracity of your claims. Set yourself the challenge either to prove or to refute a given statement. Aim to produce clear and correct mathematical arguments that logically establish their conclusions, with whatever insight and elegance you can muster.

This book is offered as a companion volume to my book Proof and the Art of Mathematics, which I have described as a mathematical coming-of-age book for students learning how to write mathematical proofs.

Spanning diverse topics from number theory and graph theory to game theory and real analysis, Proof and the Art shows how to prove a mathematical theorem, with advice and tips for sound mathematical habits and practice, as well as occasional reflective philosophical discussions about what it means to undertake mathematical proof. In Proof and the Art, I offer a few hundred mathematical exercises, challenges to the reader to prove a given mathematical statement, each a small puzzle to figure out; the intention is for students to develop their mathematical skills with these challenges of mathematical reasoning and proof.

Here in this companion volume, I provide fully worked-out solutions to all of the odd-numbered exercises, as well as a few of the even-numbered exercises. In many cases, the solutions here explore beyond the exercise question itself to natural extensions of the ideas. My attitude is that, once you have solved a problem, why not push the ideas harder to see what further you can prove with them? These solutions are examples of how one might write a mathematical proof. I hope that you will learn from them; let us go through them together. The mathematical development of this text follows the main book, with the same chapter topics in the same order, and all theorem and exercise numbers in this text refer to the corresponding statements of the main text.