Only up to isomorphism? Category Theory and the Foundations of Mathematics

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Linnebo, Øystein; Pettigrew, Richard
preprint description
Does category theory provide a foundation for mathematics that is autonomous with respect to the orthodox foundation in a set theory such as ZFC? We distinguish three types of autonomy: logical, conceptual, and justificatory. Focusing on a categorical theory of sets, we argue that a strong case can be made for its logical and conceptual autonomy. Its justificatory autonomy turns on whether the objects of a foundation for mathematics should be specified only up to isomorphism, as is customary in other branches of contemporary mathematics. If such a specification suffices, then a category-theoretical approach will be highly appropriate. But if sets have a richer 'nature' than is preserved under isomorphism, then such an approach will be inadequate.