The Fall and Original Sin of Set Theory

Daniel Francois Strauss


Hermann Weyl published a brief survey as preface to a review of The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell in 1946. In this survey he used the phrase, “The Fall and Original Sin of Set Theory.” Investigating the background of this remark will require that we pay attention to a number of issues within the foundations of mathematics. For example: Did God make the integers—as Kronecker alleged? Is mathematics set theory? Attention will also be given to axiomatic set theory and relevant ontic pre-conditions, such as the difference between number and number symbols, to number as “an aspect of objective reality” (Gödel), integers and induction (Skolem) as well as to the question if infinity—as endlessness—could be completed. In 1831 Gauss objected to viewing the infinite as something completed, which is not allowed in mathematics. It will be argued that the actual infinite is rather connected to what is present “at once,” as an infinite totality. By the year 1900 mathematicians believed that mathematics had reached absolute rigour, but unfortunately the rest of the twentieth century witnessed the opposite. The axiom of infinity ruined the expectations of logicism—mathematics cannot be reduced to logic. The intuitionism of Brouwer, Weyl and others launched a devastating attack on classical analysis, further inspired by the outcome of Gödel’s famous proof of 1931, in which he has shown that a formal mathematical system is inconsistent or incomplete. Intuitionism created a whole new mathematics, which finds no counter-part in classical mathematics. Slater remarked that within this logical paradise of Russell lurked a serpent, hidden behind the unjustified employment of the at once infinite. According to Weyl, “This is the Fall and original sin of set theory for which it is justly punished by the antinomies.” In conclusion, a few systematic distinctions are introduced.


mathematics; logic; defining mathematics; integers; induction; successive infinite; at once infinite; completed infinite; intuitionism; logicism; axiomatic formalism; infinite totality; inconsistent; incomplete

Full Text:



Copyright (c) 2019 Daniel Francois Strauss

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.