Set-theoretic pluralism and the Benacerraf problem

  • Justin Clarke-DoaneEmail author


Set-theoretic pluralism is an increasingly influential position in the philosophy of set theory (Balaguer in Platonism and anti-platonism in mathematics, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998; Linksy and Zalta in J Philos 92:525–555, 1995; Hamkins in Rev Symb Log 5:416–449, 2012). There is considerable room for debate about how best to formulate set-theoretic pluralism, and even about whether the view is coherent. But there is widespread agreement as to what there is to recommend the view (given that it can be formulated coherently). Unlike set-theoretic universalism, set-theoretic pluralism affords an answer to Benacerraf’s epistemological challenge. The purpose of this paper is to determine what Benacerraf’s challenge could be such that this view is warranted. I argue that it could not be any of the challenges with which it has been traditionally identified by its advocates, like of Benacerraf and Field. Not only are none of the challenges easier for the pluralist to meet. None satisfies a key constraint that has been placed on Benacerraf’s challenge. However, I argue that Benacerraf’s challenge could be the challenge to show that our set-theoretic beliefs are safe—i.e., to show that we could not have easily had false ones. Whether the pluralist is, in fact, better positioned to show that our set-theoretic beliefs are safe turns on a broadly empirical conjecture which is outstanding. If this conjecture proves to be false, then it is unclear what the epistemological argument for set-theoretic pluralism is supposed to be.


Benacerraf Set theory Pluralism Reliability Reliability challenge Field Debunking Contingent Necessary Safety Sensitivity Probability Epistemology of mathematics Multiverse Hamkins 



Thanks to Joel David Hamkins, Achille Varzi, Jared Warren, and audience members of the Set-Theoretic Pluralism: Indeterminacy and Foundations conference at the University of Aberdeen for helpful discussion.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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