Facets of Infinity: A Theory of Finitistic Truth

Dissertation, Princeton University (1992)

Authors
Zlatan Damnjanovic
University of Southern California
Abstract
The thesis critically examines the question of the philosophical coherence of finitism, the view which seeks to interpret mathematics without postulating an actual infinity of mathematical objects. It is argued that a widely accepted characterization of finitism, most recently expounded by Tait, is inadequate, and a new characterization based on the notion of elementary abstraction is proposed. It is further argued that the notion of elementary abstraction better explains the bearing of Godel's incompleteness theorems on the issue of the coherence of finitism. By abstraction is meant a procedure by which one recognizes or establishes that some infinite process exhibits a distinctive uniformity. If the procedure does not require one to conceive of the integers in any other way than as the result of simple iterations, we call such abstraction elementary. Some six different formal models exploring a variety of different ways in which this notion can be made precise are proposed as possible formal characterizations of finitistic truth. It is proved that all these different models are equivalent with respect to finitistically meaningful sentences. This is taken as strong evidence that the notion of elementary abstraction is determinate enough to provide a basis for a coherent philosophical formulation of finitism
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