Wednesday, November 28, 201212:00 amGC Philosophy ColloquiumGC 9405

Pluralism in set theory: does every mathematical statement have a definite truth value?

Joel David Hamkins

The City University of New York

Joel David Hamkins

I shall give a summary account of some current issues in the philosophy of set theory, specifically, the debate on pluralism and the question of the determinateness of set-theoretical and mathematical truth. The traditional Platonist view in set theory, what I call the universe view, holds that there is an absolute background concept of set and a corresponding absolute background set-theoretic universe in which every set-theoretic assertion has a final, definitive truth value. What I would like to do is to tease apart two often-blurred aspects of this perspective, namely, to separate the claim that the set-theoretic universe has a real mathematical existence from the claim that it is unique. A competing view, which I call the multiverse view, accepts the former claim and rejects the latter, by holding that there are many distinct concepts of set, each instantiated in a corresponding set-theoretic universe, and a corresponding pluralism of set-theoretic truths. After framing the dispute, I shall argue that the multiverse position explains our experience with the enormous diversity of set-theoretic possibility, a phenomenon that is one of the central set-theoretic discoveries of the past fifty years and one which challenges the universe view. In particular, I shall argue that the continuum hypothesis is settled on the multiverse view by our extensive knowledge about how it behaves in the multiverse, and as a result it can no longer be settled in the manner formerly hoped for.

Professor Hamkins (Ph.D. 1994 UC Berkeley) conducts research in mathematical and philosophical logic, particularly set theory, with a focus on the mathematics and philosophy of the infinite.  He has been particularly interested in the interaction of forcing and large cardinals, two central themes of contemporary set-theoretic research.  He has worked in the theory of infinitary computability, introducing (with A. Lewis and J. Kidder) the theory of infinite time Turing machines, as well as in the theory of infinitary utilitarianism and, more recently, infinite chess.  His work on the automorphism tower problem lies at the intersection of group theory and set theory.  Recently, he has been preoccupied with various mathematical and philosophical issues surrounding the set-theoretic multiverse, engaging with the emerging debate on pluralism in the philosophy of set theory, as well as the mathematical questions to which they lead, such as in his work on the modal logic of forcing and set-theoretic geology.