The standard interpretation of higher-order variables in modern logic and the concept of function in mathematics
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A logic that utilizes higher-order quantification --quantifying over concepts (or relations), not just over the first-order level of individuals-- can be interpreted standardly or nonstandardly depending on whether one takes an intensional or extensional view of concepts. I argue that this decision is connected to how one understands the mathematical notion of function. A function is often understood as a rule that, when given an argument from a set of objects called a "domain," returns a value from a set of objects called a "codomain." Because a concept can be thought of as a two-valued function (that indicates whether or not a given object falls under the concept), having an extensional interpretation of higher-order variables --the standard interpretation-- requires that one adopt an extensional notion of function. Viewed extensionally, however, a function is understood not as a rule but rather as a correlation associating every element in a domain with an element in a codomain. When the domain is finite, the two understandings of function are equivalent (since one can define a rule for any finite correlation), but with an infinite domain, the latter understanding admits arbitrary functions, or correlations not definable by a finitely specifiable rule. Rejection of the standard interpretation is often motivated by the same reasons used to resist the extensional understanding of function. Such resistance is overt in the pronouncements of Leopold Kronecker, but is also implicit in the work of Gottlob Frege, who used an intensional notion of function in his logic. Looking at the problem historically, I argue that the extensional notion of function has been basic to mathematics since ancient times. Moreover, I claim that Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's combination of mathematical and metaphysical ideas helped inaugurate an extensional and ultimately model-theoretical approach to mathematical concepts that led to some of the most important applications of mathematics to science (e.g. the use of non-Euclidean geometry in the theory of general relativity). In logic, Frege's use of an intensional notion of function led to contradiction, while Richard Dedekind and Georg Cantor applied the extensional notion of function to develop mathematically revolutionary theories of the transfinite.