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Subject 24.253. Philosophy of Mathematics. Spring 2013.

Please write a paper of about eight double-spaced pages on one of the following topics. You
should submit the first draft of the paper on April 18, and the final version, after comments and
corrections, on May 2. Its quite a long list of topics. Im hopeful that somewhere in it (including
Option 11), youll find something youd like to write about. If you have questions or you get stuck, please
talk to Bernhard and/or Vann, and he and/or he will try to help.
1. In Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, Galileo expresses puzzlement: Since it is clear
that we may have one line greater than another, each containing an infinite number of points, we
are forced to admit that, within one and the same class, we may have something greater than
infinity, because the infinity of points in the long line is greater than the infinity of points in the
short line. This assigning to an infinite quantity a value greater than infinity is quite beyond my
comprehension, and he comes to the conclusion that one line does not contain more or less or
just as many points as another, but that each line contains an infinite number. Cantor comes to a
different conclusion, that each line contains just as many points as the other, despite the
difference in length. What do you think?
2. Cantor was worried about the possibility that postulating the actual infinite was blasphemous,
inasmuch as to be infinite is the prerogative of God alone, and one shouldnt ascribe divine
attributes to mere mathematical entities. Cantor responded by distinguishing the transfinite from
the absolutely infinite. The totality of natural numbers and the totality of real numbers are
transfinite. While they arent finite, they arent so large that they cannot be measured by
numbers. On the other hand, if you tried to form the totality of all sets, you would fall into
contradiction. If V were such a set, we would have V(V) f V, because every set of sets is a set,
and so #(V(V)) ##(V), which contradicts the theorem that, for any set S, #(V(S)) >#(S). There is
no set of all sets, because if there were such a set, it would be absolutely infinite, and only God is
absolutely infinite. The transfinite is intermediate between the finite and the absolutely infinite.
3. When he introduced differential calculus to his students, Dedekind appealed to geometric
intuitions. Whereas this approach made perfect sense pedagogically, he says, that it can make
no claim to being scientific, no one will deny. Instead, Dedekind proposed to put the calculus
on a purely arithmetic and perfectly rigorous foundation. Is the arithmetization of the calculus
really needed?
4. The phrase the least natural number not nameable by an English phrase of fewer than thirty
syllables would appear to name the least natural number not nameable by an English phrase of
fewer than thirty syllables, in spite of being an English phrase of only twenty-five syllables.
What gives?
5. Humes principle is the statement that, for any concepts F and G, the number of Fs is equal to
the number of Gs if and only if the Fs and the Gs can be put into a one-one correspondence.
Frege shows how to derive all the familiar laws of arithmetic from Humes principle. But
Humes principle doesnt enable us to prove that J ulius Caesar isnt a number. Does this show
that Humes principle does not suffice as a basis for arithmetic? If so, what more is needed?
6. According to Frege, proper names (like Sir Walter Scott) and definite descriptions (like the
author of Ivanhoe) denote objects, whereas verb phrases (like is witty, is a poet, and wrote
Ivanhoe) denote concepts. But this raises a puzzle. We want to say that the verb phrase is a
horse denotes the concept horse. But the phrase the concept horse is a definite description, so
it denotes an object, if it denotes anything at all. This puzzle causes real problems for our
attempts to talk about concepts coherently, problems that so befuddled Frege that he wound up
concluding that the concept horse is not a concept. Any ideas on how to untangle the knot?
7. Two different diagnoses of the set-theoretic paradoxes have been offered to motivate Zermelo-
Fraenkel set theory. One is the idea that sets are built up in stages and the paradoxes arise
when we consider putative sets that arent constructed at any stage. (The scare quotes are there
because the notion of building up is metaphorical, inasmuch as nobody could literally build up
an infinite set.) A set has to be built at a later stage than all its elements, so we cant have a set
thats an element of itself. The other idea, due mainly to J ohn von Neumann has it that the
paradoxes arise from trying to form sets that are too large. There are just too darn many sets for
there to be a set of all sets. Either principle appears to be enough to block the paradoxes, but
there are differences. On the limitation of size view, theres no reason why we cant have sets
that contain themselves, as long as they arent too large. We might, for instance have a set S with
S ={S}. Do you see a reason for preferring one approach over the other?
8. Ordinarily, we recognize a mathematical statement as true either because we think its self-
evident or because we derive it from axioms was regard as self-evident. However, the Gdel
sentence, which asserts its own unprovability, isnt self-evident, and it isnt derivable from the
axioms. Yet we recognize it as true. How?
9. The Gdel incompleteness theorem has been said to show one of two things: Either the
operations the human mind goes through in proving arithmetical theorems cannot be simulated
by a purely mechanical system; or, if the theorem-proving operations of the human mind can be
simulated by a mechanical system, we cannot know what its program is, since if we knew the
program we could write down and prove the machines Gdel sentence, even though the Gdel
sentence is not a output of the machine. Either way, we see that the human mind is
fundamentally different from a merely mechanical device, since for a mechanical device we can,
in principle, figure out its program by closely examining how its put together. Are you
10. Mathematics is sometimes explained as giving us rules for manipulating symbols, in much the
way that chess gives us rules to manipulating pieces on an 8X8 board. A position on the
chessboard might be advantageous for one player or another, but we dont think of a position on
the chessboard as either true or false. In the same way, we shouldnt think of a mathematical
formula as either true or false. Mathematical formulas, it is said, are meaningless strings of
symbols, written down according to specific rules. According to this view, questions like Do
mathematical objects really exist, the way tables and chairs exist? and How can we know the
axioms are true? and How can we know about mathematical objects, when they are abstract
entities isolated from our experience? are misguided, because they suppose that the theorems
are meaningful statements, when they are, in fact, strings of meaningless symbols. Frege
objected that this formalist perspective cant account for the fact that mathematics is so very
useful, in science and in daily life. Do you agree?
11. Think of a good question for this paper. Answer it.