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PAUL BENACERRAF*

He told me that around 1886 he had discovered a novel system of numeration that in a very few days he had been able to extend to twentyfour thousand... He then applied this extravagant principle to the other numbers. Instead of seven thousand thirteen, he would say (for example) Mdximo P6rex, instead of seven thousand fourteen, The Railroad; other numbers were Luis Melidn Lafuinir, Olimar, sulphur, Clubs, the whale, the gas, the cauldron, Napoleon, Augustm de Vedia. Instead of five hundred, he would say nine. Each word had its own special sign, a kind of mark; the last were very complicated... I tried to explain to him that this rhapsody of unconnected signs was precisely the contrary of a system of numeration Jorge Luis Borges1

Downloaded from philmat.oxfordjournals.org at Cardiff University on June 26, 2011

The structuralist's cri de guerre—that mathematics is the study of (abstract) structures—could befleshedout in a number of ways, corresponding to the myriad interpretations that could be put on 'abstract' and 'structures', as well as every boolean combination thereof. But 'structure' is ambiguous between the object ('structurei')and its structure2, namely its structural properties: the Empire State Building, although a paradigmatic concrete object, is an imposing structure!, as is the union of the Re for all a < N^,, as is K, the structurei of the real numbers between 0 and 1; whereas it is also true that the structure^ of the Empire State Building has never been repeated in any other building, despite its spectacular and pioneering success there. Accordingly, some structuralists use the motto to distance themselves from those who see mathematics as the study of the properties of certain 'specific' collections of objects [structuresi; sets; natural, real, or imaginary numbers, etc... ], perhaps out of a conviction (which I once shared) that there couldn't be any objects that have just the prop• Department of Philosophy, Princeton University, Princeton, N. J., 08544 U. S. A. 1 My translation of a passage from 'Funee, the Memorious' as that appears in Borges, Fundacion Banco de Boston, Buenos Aires 1987, p. 228. I am grateful to Kathryn Trapp for having called the passage to my attention; it is quoted in her essay 'Modulo X or a Rhapsody of Incoherent Terms', unpublished. PHILOSOPHIA MATHEMATICA (3) Vol. 4 (1996), pp. 184-189.

is that (1) w-sequences are possible (mathematically speaking). but remember that these objects have the special property that each fact about them is.). possible structuresi—while claiming ontological economy. i. Selected Readings. less about structuralism per se than about some of structures that are dear to the hearts of structuralists. p. pp. 2011 . agnosticism on this matter being much of the point of the view. (1995)].' (whether any concrete example of an ^-sequence exists or not). then I believe one can be helped by the answer: call them "objects" if you Uke (in the sense of being things one can quantify over). is often a sort of nominalist who will countenance any and all "concrete" structuresi and cheerfully study their structural properties. in 'Mathematics Without Foundations' [Journal of Philosophy 64 (1967). 1989. The Philosophical ReviewLXXTV (1965). 290 fT. on at least one conception of purity. Some years ago4 I argued (against Quine and 2 Cf. Princeton. without considering whether they are instantiated by any concrete structures!—a metaphysical stretch that is sometimes attempted by resorting to modal idiom3 in order to talk of possible concrete instantiations of abstract structures—i. anyway. simply a fact about any w-sequence.. The metaphysical consequences of the thought that the two constitute equivalent descriptions of the same mathematical phenomena are interestingly pursued by Mark Kalderon in Structure and the concept of number [Ph. but certain issues will arise no matter what position one takes on the metaphysical front. 'What Numbers Could Not Be1. pp. Geoffrey Hellman presents a valiant and detailed elaboration of the modal component of this view in Mathematics Without Numbers.D. in an equivalent formulation. perhaps for that reason. Happily. impartial). we can study structures^ „ 2) without entering into that metaphysical debate. 'B&P']. Clarendon Press. without any special concern about whether there are or could be any systems of objects that indeed exhibit them... Cambridge University Press 1983 [henceforth... Benacerraf and H. reprinted in Philosophy of Mathematics. 301] On this view. [Putnam.. but all this comes to. "Numbers exist". The purist might even go so far as to countenance the study of structural properties in the abstract.e. dissertation. P. then. 3 The Joe us clasaicus for this interesting suggestion is Hilary Putnam. 4 In 'What Numbers Could Not Be'.org at Cardiff University on June 26.e. metaphysically more wimpy (or at least. and (2) there are necessary truths of the form 'If a is an w-sequence. page references are to the B&P edition. The metaphysical "purist". Downloaded from philmat. 2nd Edition'. particularly issues that pertain to the detail of the structure^ exhibited by any structurei of a certain kind. 275-277 and footnote 3. represent mathematical theories as being about structures2—the structural or relational features that systems of "objects" might exhibit. Others. esp. The two interpretations constitute 'equivalent descriptions' of the (mathematical) phenomena.RECANTATION 185 erties that these "objects" are supposed to have2—or for reasons that are metaphysically much more innocuous. reprinted in B&P] to wit: . Putnam (eds. the contents of a mathematical theory or proposition can be equivalently represented by different forms of account—one in which It is seen as being about objects and another in which it seen as elaborating the properties of possible structures.oxfordjournals. for mathematics. The present note concerns one such issue and is. in B&P. if one is puzzled by the question recently raised by Benacerraf: how numbers can be "objects" if they have no properties except order in a particular ^-sequence.

for the cognoscenti. 2011 One who may not have been taken In is Saul Kripke. for any two numbers m and n. and GodeT.. since 'recursive'. applies to numerical functions. I illustrated the point citing a particular non-recursive well-ordering of the integers—an w-sequence—that I argued would. [Oxford University Press. that is precisely what we need to know when we are counting an n-membered set. to the point of misleading them into agreement. It would leave us without a ready means of telling. For there are n platypuses iff there is a 1-1 correspondence between the platypuses and the cardinal numbers < n. Turing'. In his celebrated article 'Minds. and relations. at least on some Interpretations of some dark sayings [I have in mind his brief remarks entitled 'On a Philosophical Error in the Work of A. if we are to associate the cardinal number n with the set of platypuses when and only when there are n platypuses in the set. at least. Lucas. Also. still unpublished]. who tells me that he discussed . R. sets. which of our numbers is the nth—indeed.5 The thought was that a sequence whose ordering (<) relation was not effectively calculable could not possibly meet our needs: It is a feature of our numbers that. In Tie Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers. even which cornea next Yet. and the Laws of Physics. on most renderings.. Roger Penrose.6 we are finite beings and our finiteness leaves us without the needed resources suitably to master an ordering relation among numbers that was itself "uncomputable". limtjmrl of recursive sequences. I soon realized that I had blundered and wrote a retraction. 6 There are exceptions: J. for example. 1994]. which I should have published forthwith. but the point never seemed worth the effort (maybe I hoped the blunder would never be discovered). 7 5 Downloaded from philmat. The point 1B not that subtle. it was not enough simply (a) to supply an w-sequence with which to identify the numbers and (b) to meet Russell's quite proper demand that we explain cardinality. 1989] and A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness. to be usable in the way we use the numbers. by my present Strictly speaking. But because the view has been picked up by a number of authors. counting finite sets. M.7 I feel I should come clean. [Oxford University Press. we can tell "by inspection" whether or not m < n.186 BENACERRAF others) that in giving an account of number. e. and most recently. to my knowledge.oxfordjournals. for that reason. on most people's views. of sequences whose ordering relations have characteristic functions that are decidable. Here.org at Cardiff University on June 26. a structurei supplied in response to (a) had to meet a third condition: it had to be recursive.g. if we are reliably to reach the verdict that there are n platypuses—i. when dealing with sequences of non-numbers. This was because. typescript and. Gddel himself. nothing of substance In the present note will hang on any differences anyone might suggest may exist between effective calculabillty and recursiveness. we are assuming Church's Thesis.e. such as a herd of platypuses. a condition that (I argued) could not be met if < were not a decidable relation. It may be best to speak. and it lay in a drawer until several moves eventually disappeared it. Minds. not be usable by us for the more mundane purposes for which we tend to use numbers. starting from any given one. Machines.

given any two numbers m and n. if there is no way to do that without explicitly or tacitly Invoking numbers. and similarly with t: Isaac's.. and >^x(. Let the usual (recursive) definition of the numbers serve to define the set of 'numbers'.i. X is not a recursive well-ordering.. If talk of numbers [as if there were such things] in the structuralist context of identifying some sequence to "play the role of" our standard numbers in an analysis of number seems troublesome.l ) Of course. More generally (and tediously).xi.. if <A is some well-ordering of order-type u. If the fact that they too are numbers is troubling..) as the elements of V arranged in order of magnitude—given any two members x< and Xj of V.as below. 2011 S A (<„) 50 = A 00 = HAX(X e So) 51 = So . 'a\'... then one can Introduce the sequence of names 'ao'. Call Abraham's number a and Isaac's i.. the germ of the present response [which I thank Mark Kalderon for spurring me to resurrect] Is contained In the first few sentences of the very footnote that sets out the offending argument: There is. Xj < x Xj iff t < j . 'B — x' designates the result of subtracting the overlap of B and z from B. S is a sequence of subsets of A. as well as in a number of other lectures. true under every interpretation in every non-empty domain) sentences of a fixed standard First Order Language [you don't need to know which].x2. as defined.x n .e. as well as other aspects of the views I presented in 'What Numbers Could Not Be'. It Is the old one Illustrated by the following example.. then Index the a+ by any well-ordered index set you like. mine is the set of Godel numbers (under a suitable numbering) of the logically valid (i. 'A' does double duty as the name of the sequence and the set of elements that appear in it. by requiring that numbers be given in canonical notation. '02'. will then match the order of the elements in A.)' denotes the leasts x such that (.. a difficulty with the notion of 'knowing which numbers two expressions designate'.. as follows. . 8 Ironically enough. and so does Isaac. How does one "require" that? Or meet such a "requirement"? 0 Nothing of Importance will hang on having chosen Godel numbers. without restriction to membership in V.{dn} O! = nAx(x € Si) 02 = / M * ( * € S2) On-t-1 = HAl(x € S n .RECANTATION 187 lights at least. membership in which is not decidable. (of whatever things). n € V and m < n. of course. But that brings me no closer to deciding which is the greater. as an "oracle" for this argument at some length.). .. Let V be your favorite non-recursive (countable) set—for reasons of Church doctrine. but not to establish their order. The order of the ' a j \ as determined by their subscripts. Abraham thinks of a number. but it need not be If the elements of the sequence are not themselves numbers. The above definition of the X sequence is heavily numerical.oxfordjournals. Downloaded from philmat. then the view is in some difficulty.x. In a seminar at Princeton in 1989-90.. if the sequence proposed can be made to render service as the numbers. if I am unable to compute uncomputable functions. This can be avoided. m <x n iff m. let V be some other (countable) set... Is a greater than i? I know which number a refers to: Abraham's.8 The argument began with the presentation of a non-recursive sequence. however.. given the above de- . In what follows. is what was wrong with that argument. Define the sequence X (X = xo..{ao} 52 = Si.{01} = Sn .org at Cardiff University on June 26.e. Of course. 9 Of course. So. so let us do that and see if the rest of it goes through—i. 'OnV-.

Someone who was speculatively inclined.. etc. binary. for someone who was persuaded by my previous argument and who noticed that our new number sequence leaves us in the following predicament would have reason for concern: An important feature of this pair of sequences. like the X notation defined above. but soon gave way to pastoral calm with the realization that all could be made right again.org at Cardiff University on June 26.10 Happily. If the answer is YES. I would be equally unable to "supply you with" any given aj.. decimal. with Godel number rp~l. scriptions. designed for the purpose of affording us ready and convenient "access" to their designate. '12'. which we can henceforth conveniently ignore).. if it is NO. octo. '17' will name i 1 7 ) etc [call that Plan A]. which is valid and whose Godel number. x< <x x^ iff t < j [call that Plan B\. (a) find some m. all while forming a notational veil of innocence that masks their true natures. on this scenario. reflecting on our present situation. it does not.e.. reveal the order of the numbers.188 BENACERRAF X can be easily used to yield a decision prvcedure for V as follows (contrary to Church's Theorem): 1b decide whether n is in V. We can do so either by retaining our accustomed and familiar numerals and reassigning designate to them in the obvious way: '0' will name xo. ask your oracle) whether n <x "i. official 'canonical' notation for the elements of X in their orderx (according to which. such that m G V. On either plan.. 'xn\. such that rP~l > fc. 'XI'. is. Downloaded from philmat.. But (1 shall now argue) it was a mistake to think we couldn't tame X into submission and press it into service as the numbers. The present note records our Author's reasoning in the matter. (b) check (i. So far. without having to tinker with either the wetware or ita resident protoplasm. But wait—is everything OK? Is that the end of it? Surely not. a fortiori. find such a P for n and form the sentence (P —> P) . Panic struck at the thought that the goof might have left humans unable to count. by proclaiming the notation 'xo'. so good. An effective procedure for finding such an m exists: Since for each integer k there is a sentence P. also > n. l~(p _• p ) l . of course. In either case.. we use the sequence X without piercing the veil of the notation to consult the real essences of its members. what would do just as well. but the sequences are well defined nonetheless and only a fetish for canonical notation would lead one to feel cheated when I responded to the request for an with 'nAx(x 6 SIT)'. With m [= T(P -* P)l] thus in hand. 10 . m > n.. then n belongs to V. might even imagine that our familiar canonical notations were similarly the products of divine gerrymandering.oxfordjournals. 2011 Perhaps God had meant to create beings with more powerful "computing" powers— beings who could make proper use of the numbers In their X ordering—but simply goofed.. if pressed to do so. or.. our unary. as the new. Roman. at least on this count. we have a sequence and a notation for its elements that preserves our cherished practices and permits us to carry on as before.. systems (as well as all others recursively intertranslatable with them).

but outright error is another matter. there might even be no i such that n = x<. to be sure. whether xn < nh. the needed adjustment is near at hand and easy to make: Give up the old definition of lB has n members' as lB can be put into one-to-one correspondence with the cardinal numbers < n' and replace it with one in which '< n' gives way to '<x n' (if. ABSTRACT. etc. Happily. Either definition restores our former abilities. 2011 I once argued (in 'What Numbers Could Not Be' ) that an adequate account of the numbers and our arithmetic practice must satisfy not only the conditions usually recognized to be necessary: (a) identify some w-sequence as the numbers. I am grateful to the organizers for the opportunity to present my work in such a pleasant and stimulating setting. by serendipity. we may. . However. e. in general xn / n. as some would have it [mistakenly. we would conclude that it had xn members. But maybe we should resign ourselves to this level of ignorance (or even.g. as n might have been discarded in the initial reshuffling.org at Cardiff University on June 26.. This paper argues that adding this further condition was a mistake—any w-sequence would do.RECANTATION 189 < and <x. is perilous business and can lead to grievous error if remedial measures are not taken. is our uncertain grasp of the correlation between them: We have no algorithm for telling. indeterminacy). So any old w-sequence would do after all. we had stuck with our old notation).. and (b) correctly characterize the cardinality relation that relates a set to a member of that sequence as its cardinal number—it must also satisfy a third condition: the ' < ' of the sequence must be recursive. In June 1995.oxfordjournals. on Plan B. not to its surrogate. x n ). it is not the case that X17 < 289]. no matter how undecidable its '<' relation. having xn members is a far cry from having n members (using V here to refer to n. In the Czech Republic. we had switched to the new). know the answer in particular cases. Ignorance. The moral is clear: Using our new numbers to count platypuses would get it wrong! And the problems multiply. on Plan A. of course]. 11 The paper was delivered at the LOGICA 1995 Conference held at Llblice Castle. but unless we are ("computationally") more powerful than most think we are.11 Downloaded from philmat. we do not have it in us routinely to settle every question of that form. or to l<x xn' (if. Recall our initial example of counting the platypuses using the noncomputable sequence X as our numbers: By counting^ the n-membered set of platypuses in the usual way (using our new numbers "in the same way" as we used the old). as when n = 17 and k = 2 [under the Godel numbering / have in mind. The obvious lesson is one that we should have anticipated: Reshuffling the designata of our number words without making a corresponding readjustment in their connection to our practices of counting. maybe.

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