Naïve set theory is innocent!

Mind 107 (428):763-798 (1998)
Naive set theory, as found in Frege and Russell, is almost universally believed to have been shown to be false by the set-theoretic paradoxes. The standard response has been to rank sets into one or other hierarchy. However it is extremely difficult to characterise the nature of any such hierarchy without falling into antinomies as severe as the set-theoretic paradoxes themselves. Various attempts to surmount this problem are examined and criticised. It is argued that the rejection of naive set theory inevitably leads one into a severe scepticism with regard to the feasibility of giving a systematic semantics for set theory. It is further argued that this is not just a problem for philosophers of mathematics. Semantic scepticism in set theory will almost inevitably spill over into total pessimism regarding the prospects for an explanatory theory of language and meaning in general. The conclusion is that those who wish to avoid such intellectual defeatism need to look seriously at the possibility that it is the logic used in the derivation of the paradoxes, and not the naive set theory itself, which is at fault.
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DOI 10.1093/mind/107.428.763
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