UCL Philosophy


Button: The iterative conception of set and the iterative conception of function

7 December 2023

Tim Button: The iterative conception of function and the iterative conception of set (forthcoming). In C. Antos, N. Barton, and G Venturi (eds.), Palgrave Companion to the Philosophy of Set Theory.

Hilary Putnam once suggested that “the actual existence of sets as ‘intangible objects’ suffers… from a generalization of a problem first pointed out by Paul Benacerraf… are sets a kind of function or are functions a sort of set?” Sadly, he did not elaborate; my aim, here, is to do so on his behalf. There are well-known methods for treating sets as functions and functions as sets. But these do not raise any obvious philosophical or foundational puzzles. For that, we first need to provide a full-fledged function theory. I supply such a theory: it axiomatizes the iterative notion of function in exactly the same sense that ZF axiomatizes the iterative notion of set. Indeed, this function theory is synonymous with ZF. It might seem that set theory and function theory present us with rival foundations for mathematics, since they postulate different ontologies. But appearances are deceptive. Set theory and function theory provide the very same judicial foundation for mathematics. They do not supply rival metaphysical foundations; indeed, if they supply metaphysical foundations at all, then they supply the very same metaphysical foundations.