Basic to set theory is the notion ofmembership orelementhood. Indeed, set theory can be formulated in its entirety as a formal theory in which the only non-logical notion (symbol) is membership. The remaining notions can all be defined in terms of membership using the standard machinery of first-order logic (including identity and definite descriptions).
Although set theory can be formulated exclusively in terms of membership, in actual practice, free use is made of defined expressions. Accordingly, very few set-theoretic theorems are actually displayed in primitive notation.
Membership is a two-place relation, and its syntactic counterpart is a two-place predicate \u2013\u2208 (epsilon). Following the usual mathematical custom, we write this predicate in infix notation, rather than in prefix notation (as is customary in abstract logic and syntax). Specifically, in order to say that one thing is a member (element) of another thing, we write their respective names, and we infix the membership predicate,\u2208. Thus, the formula,1
In the previous section, in saying that membership is the only non-logical notion of set theory, I meanpure set theory.Pure set theory may be formulated as a formal theory in a first-order language in which the only non-logical symbol is \u2018\u2208\u2019. This is because pure set theory talks about sets, and nothing
By contrast, impure set theory (for lack of a better name!) talks not only about sets, but also about other things, including first elements andc l a s s e s (not necessarily both). Briefly, the notion of class is a generalization of the notion of set; sets are special kinds of classes (see below). Anything that isn\u2019t a class is afirst element, sometimes called apoint. First elements, or points, which are very important in informal set theory, have no internal structure from the viewpoint of set theory. Of course,
first elements may have very interesting internal structure from the viewpoint of, say, biology! The point is that they have no internal set theoretic structure. In informal set theory, as used throughout modern mathematics, points include numbers, geometrical points, vectors, group elements, etc. Points also include all concrete objects, as well as all abstract objects (other than classes!)
Nonetheless, we will adopt certain conventions borrowed from informal set theory. The usual informal convention is to use lower-case Roman letters to denote points, upper-case Roman letters to denote sets whose elements are points, and upper-case script letters to denote sets whose elements are sets.
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