Indefinite Divisibility

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 59 (3):239-263 (2016)
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Some hold that the lesson of Russell’s paradox and its relatives is that mathematical reality does not form a ‘definite totality’ but rather is ‘indefinitely extensible’. There can always be more sets than there ever are. I argue that certain contact puzzles are analogous to Russell’s paradox this way: they similarly motivate a vision of physical reality as iteratively generated. In this picture, the divisions of the continuum into smaller parts are ‘potential’ rather than ‘actual’. Besides the intrinsic interest of this metaphysical picture, it has important consequences for the debate over absolute generality. It is often thought that ‘indefinite extensibility’ arguments at best make trouble for mathematical platonists; but the contact arguments show that nominalists face the same kind of difficulty, if they recognize even the metaphysical possibility of the picture I sketch.

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Jeffrey Sanford Russell
University of Southern California


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