The implicit commitment of arithmetical theories and its semantic core

C. Nicolai

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According to the implicit commitment thesis, once accepting a mathematical formal system S, one is implicitly committed to additional resources not immediately available in S. Traditionally, this thesis has been understood as entailing that, in accepting S, we are bound to accept reflection principles for S and therefore claims in the language of S that are not derivable in S itself. It has recently become clear, however, that such reading of the implicit commitment thesis cannot be compatible with well-established positions in the foundations of mathematics which consider a specific theory S as self-justifying and doubt the legitimacy of any principle that is not derivable in S: examples are Tait’s finitism and the role played in it by Primitive Recursive Arithmetic, Isaacson’s thesis and Peano Arithmetic, Nelson’s ultrafinitism and sub-exponential arithmetical systems. This casts doubts on the very adequacy of the implicit commitment thesis for arithmetical theories. In the paper we show that such foundational standpoints are nonetheless compatible with the implicit commitment thesis. We also show that they can even be compatible with genuine soundness extensions of S with suitable form of reflection. The analysis we propose is as follows: when accepting a system S, we are bound to accept a fixed set of principles extending S and expressing minimal soundness requirements for S, such as the fact that the non-logical axioms of S are true. We call this invariant component the semantic core of implicit commitment. But there is also a variable component of implicit commitment that crucially depends on the justification given for our acceptance of S in which, for instance, may or may not appear (proof-theoretic) reflection principles for S. We claim that the proposed framework regulates in a natural and uniform way our acceptance of different arithmetical theories .

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)913–937
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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