This will be a talk at the conference Challenging the Infinite, March 11-12 at Oxford University. (Please register now to book a place.)

Abstract Many commonly considered forms of potentialism, I argue, are implicitly actualist in the sense that a corresponding actualist ontology and theory is interpretable within the potentialist framework using only the resources of the potentialist ontology and theory. And vice versa. For these forms of potentialism, therefore, there seems to be little at stake in the debate between potentialism and actualism—the two perspectives are bi-interpretable accounts of the same underlying semantic content. Meanwhile, more radical forms of potentialism, lacking convergence and amalgamation, do not admit such a bi-interpretation with actualism. In light of this, the central dichotomy in potentialism, to my way of thinking, is not concerned with any issue of height or width, but rather with convergent versus divergent possibility.

Please enjoy my conversation with Rahul Sam for his podcast, a sweeping discussion of topics in the philosophy of mathematics—potentialism, pluralism, Gödel incompleteness, philosophy of set theory, large cardinals, and much more.

This will be a talk for the First-order Modal Logic (FoMoLo) Seminar, 12 February 2024. The talk will take place online via Zoom—contact the organizers for access.

Abstract. What is or should be the potentialist account of classes? There are several natural implementations of second-order logic in a modal potentialist setting, which arise from differing philosophical conceptions of the nature of the second-order resources. I shall introduce the proposals, analyze their comparative expressive and interpretative powers, and explain how various philosophical attitudes are fulfilled or not for each proposal. This is joint work in progress with Øystein Linnebo.

Abstract. What is or should be the potentialist account of classes? It turns out that there are several natural implementations of second-order logic in a modal potentialist setting, which arise from differing philosophical conceptions of the nature of the second-order resources. I shall introduce the proposals, analyze their comparative expressive and interpretative powers, and explain how various philosophical attitudes are fulfilled or not for each proposal. This is joint work in progress with Øystein Linnebo.

Abstract: I shall survey the surprisingly enormous variety of potentialist conceptions, even in the case of arithmetic potentialism, spanning a spectrum from linear inevitabilism and other convergent potentialist conceptions to more radical nonamalgamable branching-possibility potentialist conceptions. Underlying the universe-fragment framework for potentialism, one finds a natural modal vocabulary capable of expressing fine distinctions between the various potentialist ideas, as well as sweeping potentialist principles. Similarly diverse conceptions of ultrafinitism grow out of the analysis. Ultimately, the various convergent potentialist conceptions, I shall argue, are implicitly actualist, reducing to and interpreting actualism via the potentialist translation, whereas the radical-branching nonamalgamable potentialist conception admits no such reduction.

Abstract. I shall present a new flexible method showing that every countable model of PA admits a pointwise definable-elementary end-extension. Also, any model of PA of size at most continuum admits an extension that is Leibnizian, meaning that any two distinct points are separated by some expressible property. Similar results hold in set theory, where one can also achieve V=L in the extension, or indeed any suitable theory holding in an inner model of the original model.

Instructor: Joel David Hamkins, O’Hara Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics 3:30-4:45 Tuesdays + Thursdays, DeBartolo Hall 208

Course Description. This course will be a mathematical and philosophical exploration of infinity, covering a wide selection of topics illustrating this rich, fascinating concept—the mathematics and philosophy of the infinite.

Along the way, we shall find paradox and fun—and all my favorite elementary logic conundrums and puzzles. It will be part of my intention to reveal what I can of the quirky side of mathematics and logic in its connection with infinity, but with a keen eye open for when issues happen to engage with philosophically deeper foundational matters.

The lectures will be based on the chapters of my forthcoming book, The Book of Infinity, currently in preparation, and currently being serialized and made available on the Substack website as I explain below.

Topics. Among the topics we shall aim to discuss will be:

Puzzles of epistemic logic and the problem of common knowledge

Mathematical background. The course will at times involve topics and concepts of a fundamentally mathematical nature, but no particular mathematical background or training will be assumed. Nevertheless, it is expected that students be open to mathematical thinking and ideas, and furthermore it is a core aim of the course to help develop the student’s mastery over various mathematical concepts connected with infinity.

Readings. The lectures will be based on readings from the topic list above that will be made available on my Substack web page, Infinitely More. Readings for the topic list above will be gradually released there during the semester. Each reading will consist of a chapter essay my book-in-progress, The Book of Infinity, which is being serialized on the Substack site specifically for this course. In some weeks, there will be supplemental readings from other sources.

Student access. I will issue subscription invitations to the Substack site for all registered ND students using their ND email, with free access to the site during the semester, so that students can freely access the readings. Students are free to manage their subscriptions however they see fit. Please inform me of any access issues. There are some excellent free Substack apps available for Apple iOS and Android for reading Substack content on a phone or other device.

Discussion forum. Students are welcome to participate in the discussion forums provided with the readings to discuss the topics, the questions, to post answer ideas, or engage in the discussion there. I shall try to participate myself by posting comments or hints.

Homework essays. Students are expected to engage fully with every topic covered in the class. Every chapter concludes with several Questions for Further Thought, with which the students should engage. It will be expected that students complete approximately half of the Questions for Further thought. Each question that is answered should be answered essay-style with a mini-essay of about half a page or more.

Extended essays. A student may choose at any time to answer one of the Questions for Further Thought more fully with a more extended essay of two or three pages, and in this case, other questions on that particular topic need not be engaged. Every student should plan to exercise this option at least twice during the semester.

Final exam. There will be a final exam consisting of questions similar to those in the Questions for Further Thought, covering every topic that was covered in the course. The final grade will be based on the final exam and on the submitted homework solutions.

Open Invitation. Students outside of Notre Dame are welcome to follow along with the Infinity course, readings, and online discussion. Simply subscribe at Infinitely More, keep up with the readings and participate in the discussions we shall be having in the forums there.

Focused on mathematical and philosophical aspects of the set-theoretic multiverse and the pluralist debate in the philosophy of set theory, this workshop will have a master class on potentialism, a series of several speakers, and a panel discussion. To be held 21-22 September 2022 at the University of Konstanz, Germany. (Contact organizers for Zoom access.)

I shall make several contributions to the meeting.

I shall give a master class tutorial on potentialism, an introduction to the general theory of potentialism that has been emerging in recent work, often developed as a part of research on set-theoretic pluralism, but just as often branching out to a broader application. Although the debate between potentialism and actualism in the philosophy of mathematics goes back to Aristotle, recent work divorces the potentialist idea from its connection with infinity and undertakes a more general analysis of possible mathematical universes of any kind. Any collection of mathematical structures forms a potentialist system when equipped with an accessibility relation (refining the submodel relation), and one can define the modal operators of possibility $\Diamond\varphi$, true at a world when $\varphi$ is true in some larger world, and necessity $\Box\varphi$, true in a world when $\varphi$ is true in all larger worlds. The project is to understand the structures more deeply by understanding their modal nature in the context of a potentialist system. The rise of modal model theory investigates very general instances of potentialist system, for sets, graphs, fields, and so on. Potentialism for the models of arithmetic often connects with deeply philosophical ideas on ultrafinitism. And the spectrum of potentialist systems for the models of set theory reveals fundamentally different conceptions of set-theoretic pluralism and possibility.

The multiverse view on the axiom of constructibility

I shall give a talk on the multiverse perspective on the axiom of constructibility. Set theorists often look down upon the axiom of constructibility V=L as limiting, in light of the fact that all the stronger large cardinals are inconsistent with this axiom, and furthermore the axiom expresses a minimizing property, since $L$ is the smallest model of ZFC with its ordinals. Such views, I argue, stem from a conception of the ordinals as absolutely completed. A potentialist conception of the set-theoretic universe reveals a sense in which every set-theoretic universe might be extended (in part upward) to a model of V=L. In light of such a perspective, the limiting nature of the axiom of constructibility tends to fall away.

Panel discussion: The multiverse view—challenges for the next ten years

This will be a panel discussion on the set-theoretic multiverse, with panelists including myself, Carolin Antos-Kuby, Giorgio Venturi, and perhaps others.

The name of the workshop (“Reflecting on ten years…”), I was amazed to learn, refers to the period since my 2012 paper, The set-theoretic multiverse, in the Review of Symbolic Logic, in which I had first introduced my arguments and views concerning set-theoretic pluralism. I am deeply honored by this workshop highlighting my work in this way and focussing on the developments growing out of it.

In this talk, I shall engage in that discussion by presenting some very new work connecting several topics that have been prominent in discussions of the set-theoretic multiverse, namely, set-theoretic potentialism and pointwise definability.

Abstract. Using the universal algorithm and its generalizations, I shall present new work on the possibility of end-extending any given countable model of arithmetic or set theory to a pointwise definable model, one in which every object is definable without parameters. Every countable model of Peano arithmetic, for example, admits an end-extension to a pointwise definable model. And similarly, every countable model of ZF set theory admits an end-extension to a pointwise definable model of ZFC+V=L, as well as to pointwise definable models of other sufficient theories, accommodating large cardinals. I shall discuss the philosophical significance of these results in the philosophy of set theory with a view to potentialism and the set-theoretic multiverse.

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.

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.

This will be a talk for the Department Colloquium of the Philosophy Department of the University of Notre Dame, 26 March 12 pm EST (4pm GMT).

Abstract: Potentialism is the view, originating in the classical dispute between actual and potential infinity, that one’s mathematical universe is never fully completed, but rather unfolds gradually as new parts of it increasingly come into existence or become accessible or known to us. Recent work emphasizes the modal aspect of potentialism, while decoupling it from arithmetic and from infinity: the essence of potentialism is about approximating a larger universe by means of universe fragments, an idea that applies to set-theoretic as well as arithmetic foundations. The modal language and perspective allows one precisely to distinguish various natural potentialist conceptions in the foundations of mathematics, whose exact modal validities are now known. Ultimately, this analysis suggests a refocusing of potentialism on the issue of convergent inevitability in comparison with radical branching. I shall defend the theses, first, that convergent potentialism is implicitly actualist, and second, that we should understand ultrafinitism in modal terms as a form of potentialism, one with surprising parallels to the case of arithmetic potentialism.

Abstract. Recent years have seen a flurry of mathematical activity in set-theoretic and arithmetic potentialism, in which we investigate a collection of models under various natural extension concepts. These potentialist systems enable a modal perspective—a statement is possible in a model, if it is true in some extension, and necessary, if it is true in all extensions. We consider the models of ZFC set theory, for example, with respect to submodel extensions, rank-extensions, forcing extensions and others, and these various extension concepts exhibit different modal validities. In this talk, I shall describe the state of current developments, including the most recent tools and results.

This will be a talk for the Barcelona Set Theory Seminar, 28 October 2020 4 pm CET (3 pm UK). Contact Joan Bagaria bagaria@ub.edu for the access link.

Abstract. The Barwise extension theorem, asserting that every countable model of ZF set theory admits an end-extension to a model of ZFC+V=L, is both a technical culmination of the pioneering methods of Barwise 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 theorem that omits any need for infinitary logic and relies instead only on classical methods of descriptive set theory. This proof 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. The result has strong consequences for the nature of set-theoretic potentialism. This work is joint with Kameryn J. Williams.

This is joint work with Wojciech Aleksander Wołoszyn, who is about to begin as a DPhil student with me in mathematics here in Oxford. We began and undertook this work over the past year, while he was a visitor in Oxford under the Recognized Student program.

[bibtex key=”HamkinsWoloszyn:Modal-model-theory”]

Abstract. We introduce the subject of modal model theory, where one studies a mathematical structure within a class of similar structures under an extension concept that gives rise to mathematically natural notions of possibility and necessity. A statement $\varphi$ is possible in a structure (written $\Diamond\varphi$) if $\varphi$ is true in some extension of that structure, and $\varphi$ is necessary (written $\Box\varphi$) if it is true in all extensions of the structure. A principal case for us will be the class $\text{Mod}(T)$ of all models of a given theory $T$—all graphs, all groups, all fields, or what have you—considered under the substructure relation. In this article, we aim to develop the resulting modal model theory. The class of all graphs is a particularly insightful case illustrating the remarkable power of the modal vocabulary, for the modal language of graph theory can express connectedness, $k$-colorability, finiteness, countability, size continuum, size $\aleph_1$, $\aleph_2$, $\aleph_\omega$, $\beth_\omega$, first $\beth$-fixed point, first $\beth$-hyper-fixed-point and much more. A graph obeys the maximality principle $\Diamond\Box\varphi(a)\to\varphi(a)$ with parameters if and only if it satisfies the theory of the countable random graph, and it satisfies the maximality principle for sentences if and only if it is universal for finite graphs.

Follow through the arXiv for a pdf of the article.