A Defense of Second-Order Logic

Otávio Bueno

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Second-order logic has a number of attractive features, in particular the strong expressive resources it offers, and the possibility of articulating categorical mathematical theories (such as arithmetic and analysis). But it also has its costs. Five major charges have been launched against second-order logic: (1) It is not axiomatizable; as opposed to first-order logic, it is inherently incomplete. (2) It also has several semantics, and there is no criterion to choose between them (Putnam, J Symbol Logic 45:464-482, 1980). Therefore, it is not clear how this logic should be interpreted. (3) Second-order logic also has strong ontological commitments: (a) it is ontologically committed to classes (Resnik, J Phil 85:75-87, 1988), and (b) according to Quine (Philosophy of logic, Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, 1970), it is nothing more than "set theory in sheep's clothing". (4) It is also not better than its first-order counterpart, in the following sense: if first-order logic does not characterize adequately mathematical systems, given the existence of non-isomorphic first-order interpretations, second-order logic does not characterize them either, given the existence of different interpretations of second-order theories (Melia, Analysis 55:127-134, 1995). (5) Finally, as opposed to what is claimed by defenders of second-order logic [such as Shapiro (J Symbol Logic 50:714-742, 1985)], this logic does not solve the problem of referential access to mathematical objects (Azzouni, Metaphysical myths, mathematical practice: the logic and epistemology of the exact sciences, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994). In this paper, I argue that the second-order theorist can solve each of these difficulties. As a result, second-order logic provides the benefits of a rich framework without the associated costs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-383
Number of pages19
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010


  • Azzouni
  • Nonstandard models
  • Putnam
  • Quine
  • Reference
  • Second-order logic
  • Semantics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mathematics (miscellaneous)
  • Philosophy


Dive into the research topics of 'A Defense of Second-Order Logic'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this