Categoricity by convention

Philosophical Studies 178 (10):3391-3420 (2021)
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On a widespread naturalist view, the meanings of mathematical terms are determined, and can only be determined, by the way we use mathematical language—in particular, by the basic mathematical principles we’re disposed to accept. But it’s mysterious how this can be so, since, as is well known, minimally strong first-order theories are non-categorical and so are compatible with countless non-isomorphic interpretations. As for second-order theories: though they typically enjoy categoricity results—for instance, Dedekind’s categoricity theorem for second-order PA and Zermelo’s quasi-categoricity theorem for second-order ZFC—these results require full second-order logic. So appealing to these results seems only to push the problem back, since the principles of second-order logic are themselves non-categorical: those principles are compatible with restricted interpretations of the second-order quantifiers on which Dedekind’s and Zermelo’s results are no longer available. In this paper, we provide a naturalist-friendly, non-revisionary solution to an analogous but seemingly more basic problem—Carnap’s Categoricity Problem for propositional and first-order logic—and show that our solution generalizes, giving us full second-order logic and thereby securing the categoricity or quasi-categoricity of second-order mathematical theories. Briefly, the first-order quantifiers have their intended interpretation, we claim, because we’re disposed to follow the quantifier rules in an open-ended way. As we show, given this open-endedness, the interpretation of the quantifiers must be permutation-invariant and so, by a theorem recently proved by Bonnay and Westerståhl, must be the standard interpretation. Analogously for the second-order case: we prove, by generalizing Bonnay and Westerståhl’s theorem, that the permutation invariance of the interpretation of the second-order quantifiers, guaranteed once again by the open-endedness of our inferential dispositions, suffices to yield full second-order logic.

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Author Profiles

Brett Topey
University of Salzburg
Julien Murzi
University of Salzburg

Citations of this work

Categorical Quantification.Constantin C. Brîncuș - forthcoming - Bulletin of Symbolic Logic:1-27.
Logical Conventionalism.Jared Warren - unknown - In Filippo Ferrari, Elke Brendel, Massimiliano Carrara, Ole Hjortland, Gil Sagi, Gila Sher & Florian Steinberger (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Logic. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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