Plump ordinals

foundations

# Plump ordinals

## Idea

The ordinal numbers admit two inequalities: a strict one $\lt$ and a non-strict one $\le$. When the ordinals are defined in material set theory in the von Neumann style as “the set of all smaller ordinals”, these relations are identified with $\in$ (set membership?) and $\subseteq$ (containment). And when ordinals are defined in a structural theory as certain well-ordered sets, the relation $\le$ refers to inclusion as an initial subset? (a simulation) while $A\lt B$ refers to such an inclusion as the strict slice $\{ y | y \lt x \}$ of some element $x$ of $B$.

In classical mathematics, $\lt$ and $\le$ are definable in terms of each other’s negation: $A\lt B$ if and only if $\neg(B\le A)$, and similarly $A\le B$ if and only if $\neg(B\lt A)$. However, in constructive mathematics this is no longer true. This phenomenon occurs for other ordered structures as well; for instance, for the real numbers. (For the most commonly used notions of real number, $\le$ is definable as the negation of $\gt$, but not conversely.) In general, there are certain laws we may expect such a pair of inequalities to satisfy, such as:

• $x\le x$.
• Not $x \lt x$.
• If $x\le y\le z$, then $x\le z$.
• If $x\lt y$, then $x\le y$.
• If $x\lt y\lt z$, then $x\lt z$.
• If $x\lt y\le z$, then $x\lt z$.
• If $x\le y\lt z$, then $x\lt z$.

For the constructive ordinal numbers, these are all satisfied except for the last one. In fact, it’s easy to see that if $x\le y\lt z$ implies $x\lt z$ for all $x,y,z$, then excluded middle holds: consider $z = 2 = \{0,1\}$ and $y = 1 = \{0\}$ and $x = \{0 | P\}$ for some proposition $P$.

However, Paul Taylor (Taylor) realized that this last property can be recovered by essentially “restricting to the subclass of ordinals $z$ for which it holds hereditarily”. These are the plump ordinals.

## Definition

An ordinal $A$ is plump if

1. every ordinal $B\lt A$ is plump, and
2. whenever $C\le B\lt A$ and $C$ is a plump ordinal, then $C\lt A$.

It is not obvious that this definition is sound (i.e. non-circular), but it can be shown to be so based on a well-founded relation (other than $A$ itself). It does, however, require the existence of power sets, so it is not obviously sensible in predicative mathematics which denies the existence of those.

• Paul Taylor, Intuitionistic sets and ordinals, Journal of Symbolic Logic, 61:705-744, 1996, available here

• See also Section 6.7 of Paul Taylor, Practical Foundations of Mathematics, here.