FOM: Shipman on introducing concepts
John Mayberry
J.P.Mayberry at bristol.ac.uk
Sat May 1 06:01:16 EDT 1999
Joe Shipman wrote in his posting of 30 April 99 "It should be
possible in a foundational work like 'On Numbers and Games' simply to
INTRODUCE a concept like ordered pair with the appropriate notation and
properties, without finding an equivalent in the language with only the
epsilon relational symbol."
It seems to me, however, that it is precisely in foundations
that this sort of "introduction" of concepts is completely
illegitimate. Why should mathematicians be granted license to
"introduce" objects and concepts that no one would dream of granting to
theologians, say?
In his subsequent reply to Martin Davis, Shipman appeals to the
distinction between *meta*-mathematics, which deals with foundational
matters, and *ordinary* mathematics where it is ok just to "introduce"
primitive notions. But surely the foundations of mathematics are a part
of mathematics ("ordinary" is redundant here), in fact, the part of
mathematics which explains, among other things, how the axiomatic
method works, and therefore how it is that geometers can "introduce"
points at infinity, algebraists can extend their fields by
"introducing" roots of polynomial equations, and Conway can "introduce"
his pairing relation. This means that in foundations we cannot just
carry on using familiar axiomatic techniques as if they required
neither analysis nor justification. For they do require analysis and
justification, and therefore we cannot use the conventional axiomatic
method to *establish* the foundations of mathematics, although, of
course, we can use it to *study* those foundations mathematically, once
they have been established (eg, we can formalise set theory with a view
to discovering limitations on what we can prove).
It is precisely when we are dealing with *foundations* that we
come up against basic concepts which cannot themselves be defined, but
upon which all mathematical definitions ultimately rest, and basic
principles (axioms, in the true and original sense of "axiom") which
cannot themselves be proved, but to which all mathematcal proofs
ultimately appeal. Because as mathematicians we deal with rigorous
proof and rigouous definition, it is not open to us lay down our basic
concepts as "primitive notions" without worrying what they mean, or our
basic principles as "formal axioms" without worrying about whether they
are true. If our basic concepts are not meaningful, then none of our
concepts are meaningful, and if our basic principles are not true then
none of our theorems are true either.
John Mayberry
School of Mathematics
University of Bristol
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John Mayberry
J.P.Mayberry at bristol.ac.uk
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