Non-standard models in a broader perspective

Non-standard models were introduced by Skolem, first for set theory, then for Peano arithmetic. In the former, Skolem found support for an anti-realist view of absolutely uncountable sets. But in the latter he saw evidence for the impossibility of capturing the intended interpretation by purely deductive methods. In the history of mathematics the concept of a nonstandard model is new. An analysis of some major innovations–the discovery of irrationals, the use of negative and complex numbers, the modern concept of function, and non-Euclidean geometry–reveals them as essentially different from the introduction of non-standard models. Yet, non-Euclidean geometry, which is discussed at some length, is relevant to the present concern; for it raises the issue of intended interpretation. The standard model of natural numbers is the best candidate for an intended interpretation that cannot be captured by a deductive system. Next, I suggest, is the concept of a wellordered set, and then, perhaps, the concept of a constructible set. One may have doubts about a realistic conception of the standard natural numbers, but such doubts cannot gain support from non-standard models. Attempts to utilize non-standard models for an anti-realist position in mathematics, which appeal to meaning-as-use, or to arguments of the kind proposed by Putnam, fail through irrelevance, or lead to incoherence. Robinson’s skepticism, on the other hand, is a coherent position, though one that gives up on providing a detailed philosophical account. The last section enumerates various uses of non-standard models.
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