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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reflection ranks and ordinal analysis


It is well-known that natural axiomatic theories are well-ordered by consistency strength. However, it is possible to construct descending chains of artificial theories with respect to consistency strength. We provide an explanation of this well-orderness phenomenon by studying a coarsening of the consistency strength order, namely, the $\Pi^1_1$ reflection strength order. We prove that there are no descending sequences of $\Pi^1_1$ sound extensions of $\mathsf{ACA}_0$ in this order. Accordingly, we can attach a rank in this order, which we call reflection rank, to any $\Pi^1_1$ sound extension of $\mathsf{ACA}_0$. We prove that for any $\Pi^1_1$ sound theory $T$ extending $\mathsf{ACA}_0^+$, the reflection rank of $T$ equals the proof-theoretic ordinal of $T$. We also prove that the proof-theoretic ordinal of $\alpha$ iterated $\Pi^1_1$ reflection is $\varepsilon_\alpha$. Finally, we use our results to provide straightforward well-foundedness proofs of ordinal notation systems based on reflection principles.

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