Talk: Relativism and Metalogic, or; Are the Natural Numbers Indeterminate?

This will be a talk in the Logik Café at the University of Vienna Department of Philosophy. Slides here.

Abstract: It is commonplace to assume that if our discourse involving natural numbers and arithmetic is coherent at all, then it determines a unique structure (up to isomorphism). Recently, however, some mathematicians have challenged this assumption (especially the “New York School” of set theorists), arguing that the independence phenomenon in mathematics suggests that our talk about natural numbers is, in fact, indeterminate. In particular, an assumption of this view is that only statements that can be given first-order formulation have determinate content. In this paper we argue that such a view runs the risk of being self-undermining. We will suggest that modifying the view to include a schematic commitment to *feasibly checkable* fragments of set theory and mathematics as interpreted in these fragments yields a coherent conception of mathematics. We will, however, suggest that the view comes at the price of significant metamathematical reinterpretation, with several open philosophical and technical questions. This is joint work with Daniel Waxman.

TALK Large Cardinals and the Iterative Conception of Set, University of Campinas, Brazil.

This will be a talk at the `Cantor Meets Robinson’ conference. You can find the slides here. Draft of the paper available here.

Abstract: The independence phenomenon in set theory, while pervasive, can be partially addressed through the use of large cardinal axioms. One idea sometimes alluded to is that maximality considerations speak in favour of large cardinal axioms consistent with ZFC, since it appears to be `possible’ (in some sense) to continue the hierarchy far enough to generate the relevant transfinite number. In this paper, we argue against this idea based on a priority of subset formation under the iterative conception. In particular, we argue that there are several conceptions of maximality that justify the consistency but falsity of large cardinal axioms. We argue that the arguments we provide are illuminating for the debate concerning the justification of new axioms in iteratively-founded set theory.

TALK: Forcing and the Universe of Sets: Must we lose insight?

This will be a talk at Methodological Approaches in the Study of Recent Mathematics: Mathematical Philosophy and Mathematical Practice, at the University of Konstanz on 21 September. You can find the slides for the talk here, and a recent draft of the paper here.

Abstract: A central area of current philosophical debate in the foundations of mathematics concerns whether or not there is a single, maximal, universe of set theory. Universists maintain that there is such a universe, while Multiversists argue that there are many universes, no one of which is ontologically privileged. Often forcing constructions that add subsets to models are cited as evidence in favour of the latter. This paper informs this debate by analysing ways the Universist might interpret this discourse that seems to necessitate the addition of subsets to V. We argue that despite the prima facie incoherence of such talk for the Universist, she nonetheless has reason to try and provide interpretation of this discourse. We analyse extant interpretations of such talk, and analyse various tradeoffs in naturality that might be made. We conclude that the Universist has promising options for interpreting different forcing constructions.

Talk: Set Theory and Structures

This will be a talk at the 2018 Italian Society for the Philosophy of Mathematics (Filmat 2018) meeting.  Slides.


Set-theoretic and category-theoretic foundations represent different perspectives on mathematical subject matter. In particular, category-theoretic language focusses on properties that can be determined up to isomorphism within a category, whereas set theory admits of properties determined by the internal structure of the membership relation. Various objections have been raised against this aspect of set theory in the category-theoretic literature. In this article, we advocate a methodological pluralism concerning the two foundational languages, and provide a theory that fruitfully interrelates a `structural’ perspective to a set-theoretic one. We present a set-theoretic system that is able to talk about structures more naturally, and argue that it provides an important perspective on plausibly structural properties such as cardinality. We conclude the language of set theory can provide useful information about the notion of mathematical structure.