Hegel and Topos Theory. Thought of the Day 46.0


The intellectual feat of Lawvere is as important as Gödel’s formal undecidability theorem, perhaps even more. But there is a difference between both results: whereas Gödel led to a blind alley, Lawvere has displayed a new and fascinating panorama to be explored by mathematicians and philosophers. Referring to the positive results of topos theory, Lawvere says:

A science student naively enrolling in a course styled “Foundations of Mathematics” is more likely to receive sermons about unknowability… than to receive the needed philosophical guide to a systematic understanding of the concrete richness of pure and applied mathematics as it has been and will be developed. (Categories of space and quantity)

One of the major philosophical results of elementary topos theory, is that the way Hegel looked at logic was, after all, in the good track. According to Hegel, formal mathematical logic was but a superficial tautologous script. True logic was dialectical, and this logic ruled the gigantic process of the development of the Idea. Inasmuch as the Idea was autorealizing itself through the opposition of theses and antitheses, logic was changing but not in an arbitrary change of inferential rules. Briefly, in the dialectical system of Hegel logic was content-dependent.

Now, the fact that every topos has a corresponding internal logic shows that logic is, in quite a precise way, content-dependent; it depends on the structure of the topos. Every topos has its own internal logic, and this logic is materially dependent on the characterization of the topos. This correspondence throws new light on the relation of logic to ontology. Classically, logic was considered as ontologically aseptic. There could be a multitude of different ontologies, but there was only one logic: the classical. Of course, there were some mathematicians that proposed a different logic: the intuitionists. But this proposal was due to not very clear speculative epistemic reasons: they said they could not understand the meaning of the attributive expression “actual infinite”. These mathematicians integrated a minority within the professional mathematical community. They were seen as outsiders that had queer ideas about the exact sciences. However, as soon as intuitionistic logic was recognized as the universal internal logic of topoi, its importance became astronomical. Because it provided, for the first time, a new vision of the interplay of logic with mathematics. Something had definitively changed in the philosophical panorama.


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