FOM: Tragesser on fom and sheep
J P Mayberry
J.P.Mayberry at bristol.ac.uk
Sat Feb 21 13:21:28 EST 1998
It seems to me that Robert Tragesser, in his challenge to Steve
Simpson, Harvey Friedman, et al., has firmly grasped the wrong end of
the stick. He writes
"The point is that most mathematics operates within
conceptual frames that are phenomenologically quite
distinct from set-constructs"
Now I'm not entirely sure what he means by
"phenomenologically", but there is clearly a sense in which what he
says is true. Each branch of mathematics has its own ethos: its own
collection of central concepts and techniques of argument. But that is
quite beside the point here. For in every case those concepts are
defined, ultimately, in terms of the concepts of set theory, and those
techniques of argument are justified, ultimately, in terms of the basic
principles of set theory. Set theory is the *foundation* on which those
branches of mathematics rest, not a "probe" that we use to investigate
otherwise autonomous theories.
Maybe Tragesser had something like real analysis in mind when
he spoke about mathematics that "operates within a conceptual frame
that is phenomenologically quite distinct from set-constructs". Isn't
real analysis an autonomous theory? Wasn't it already a going concern
long before set theorists appeared on the scene? But we all know *that*
story. The "arithmeization" of analysis - the purging of its
foundations of any *logical* dependence on old fashioned intuitive
(anschaulich) geometry - was a project that the greatest mathematicians
of the last century took part in.
How do you cut the Calculus free of any logical dependence on
old fashioned geometry. It isn't easy. It required great effort by
mathematicians of the stature of Weierstrass, Dedekind, Cantor,
Russell, Zermelo, . . . to accomplish this. And when they had finished,
Lo and Behold, most of the results of their predecessors found a
place, in new guises, in the radically transformed theory.
Nowadays when we teach begining analysis to our students our
principal task is to get them to think analytically, that is, to get
them to see how to convert naive arguments in anschaulich geometry into
rigorous arguments based on real algebra and set theory. And, of
course, the algebra of real numbers must itself be developed using the
axiomatic method which, in turn rests on set theory. So set theory lies
at the base of the whole theory of real analysis.
To be sure, when professional mathematicians do real analysis
they *think* in naive geometry (with a mixture of real algebra and set
theory thrown in). This is "phenomenologically" distinct from a purely
structuralist ("set-theoretical") view of the subject. No doubt it is
also a necessary psychological and heuristic aid to thinking about
difficult matters. But the logical basis for their proofs must be
purely analytical (based on real algebra and set theory), not
geometrical in the old fashioned sense of anschaulich geometry.
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J P Mayberry
J.P.Mayberry at bristol.ac.uk
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