Suppose we are standing outside a realizable system which admits CZF or a similar constructive set theory. Then consider the following:

So, working backwards from outside the system, is it the case that this system always has some non-well-founded sets? The internal logic might not be able to see them, of course.

  • $\begingroup$ This is purely an idle curiosity that arose while reading about domain theory. Feel free to send this to MSE or MO if it's off-topic on CS Theory. $\endgroup$
    – Corbin
    Aug 3, 2023 at 14:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The interest in constructive or non-well-founded set theory has mostly been driven by CS in recent decades. $\endgroup$ Aug 3, 2023 at 16:52

2 Answers 2


You are using the wrong definition of well-foundedness.

Let $R \subseteq A \times A$ be a relation. Consider the following definitions:

  1. $R$ is inductive when for all $B \subseteq A$, if $\forall x \in A . (\forall y \in A . y R x \Rightarrow y \in B) \Rightarrow x \in B$ then $B = A$.

  2. $R$ has the minimal subset property when every inhabited set $B \subseteq A$ has an element $x \in B$ such that, for all $y \in A$, if $y R x$ then $y \not\in B$.

  3. $R$ has no infinite decreasing chains when there is no $a : \mathbb{N} \to A$ such that $a_{n+1} R a_n$ for all $n \in \mathbb{N}$.

These conditions are classically equivalent, but not intuitionistically. The one that makes sense intuitionistically is the "$R$ is inductive".

CZF and most material set theories either assume as an axiom, or prove from other axioms, that $\in$ is inductive.

As far as realizability models of constructive set theories go, you can choose whether you want them to satisfy the $\in$-induction axiom. (People usually do.)


CZF includes the $\in$-induction axiom, which is the constructively sensible version of the foundation axiom. So everything in one of its models is well-founded in that sense.

However, while I'm no expert, I think this might not be a particularly definitive property. For instance, starting with a (pre)topos, you get a model of CZF/IZF/etc. by considering well-founded trees built using the (pre)topos. But you can also take non-well-founded trees to get models of non-well-founded set theories. I'm not sure there is anything more going on in realizability models of CZF than this—the model construction explicitly picking out objects so that $\in$ is well-founded.


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