Reflections on Skolem's Paradox

Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles (2000)
The Lowenheim-Skolem theorems say that if a first-order theory has infinite models, then it has models which are only countably infinite. Cantor's theorem says that some sets are uncountable. Together, these theorems induce a puzzle known as Skolem's Paradox: the very axioms of set theory which prove the existence of uncountable sets can be satisfied by a merely countable model. ;This dissertation examines Skolem's Paradox from three perspectives. After a brief introduction, chapters two and three examine several formulations of Skolem's Paradox in order to disentangle the roles which set theory, model theory, and philosophy play in these formulations. In these chapters, I accomplish three things. First, I clear up some of the mathematical ambiguities which have all too often infected discussions of Skolem's Paradox. Second, I isolate a key assumption upon which Skolem's Paradox rests, and I show why this assumption has to be false. Finally, I argue that there is no single explanation as to how a countable model can satisfy the axioms of set theory ;In chapter four, I turn to a second puzzle. Why, even though philosophers have known since the early 1920's that Skolem's Paradox has a relatively simple technical solution, have they continued to find this paradox so troubling? I argue that philosophers' attitudes towards Skolem's Paradox have been shaped by the acceptance of certain, fairly specific, claims in the philosophy of language. I then tackle these philosophical claims head on. In some cases, I argue that the claims depend on an incoherent account of mathematical language. In other cases, I argue that the claims are so powerful that they render Skolem's Paradox trivial. In either case, though, examination of the philosophical underpinnings of Skolem's Paradox renders that paradox decidedly unparadoxical. ;Finally, in chapter five, I turn away from "generic" formulations of Skolem's Paradox to examine Hilary Putnam's "model-theoretic argument against realism." I show that Putnam's argument involves mistakes of both the mathematical and the philosophical variety, and that these two types of mistake are closely related. Along the way, I clear up some of the mutual charges of question begging which have characterized discussions between Putnam and his critics
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