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Mathematical determinacy and the transferability of aboutness


Competent speakers of natural languages can borrow reference from one another. You can arrange for your utterances of ‘Kirksville’ to refer to the same thing as my utterances of ‘Kirksville’. We can then talk about the same thing when we discuss Kirksville. In cases like this, you borrow “aboutness” from me by borrowing reference. Now suppose I wish to initiate a line of reasoning applicable to any prime number. I might signal my intention by saying, “Let p be any prime.” In this context, I will be using the term ‘p’ to reason about the primes. Although ‘p’ helps me secure the aboutness of my discourse, it may seem wrong to say that ‘p’ refers to anything. Be that as it may, this paper explores what mathematical discourse would be like if mathematicians were able to borrow freely from one another not just the reference of terms that clearly refer, but, more generally, the sort of aboutness present in a line of reasoning leading up to a universal generalization. The paper also gives reasons for believing that aboutness of this sort really is freely transferable. A key implication will be that the concept “set of natural numbers” suffers from no mathematically significant indeterminacy that can be coherently discussed.

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Correspondence to Stephen Pollard.

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Pollard, S. Mathematical determinacy and the transferability of aboutness. Synthese 159, 83–98 (2007).

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  • Categoricity
  • Set theory
  • Continuum hypothesis