FOM: Standards of mathematical rigour and logical consequence

Vladimir Sazonov sazonov at
Mon Oct 26 13:38:26 EST 1998

Charles Silver wrote:
> On Sun, 25 Oct 1998, Vladimir Sazonov wrote:

> > It seems that at present practically everybody agreed with the
> > framework based on set theory so that no problems with the
> > rigour arise in everyday mathematical practice.  Those who
> > knows formal rules of predicate calculus may have somewhat
> > different, detailed standards. But this is a paradise only for
> > those who do not try to look outside this framework or who is
> > irrelevant to length of (imaginary?) proofs and to uncontrolled
> > using implicit abbreviating mechanisms in the proofs.
>         I find your finitistic viewpoint very interesting, but there are a
> couple of things I don't understand.

> You seem to accept first-order
> logic,

First, I accept the *language* of FOL just because we need some 
expressive (in a naive sense) language.

> which I think indicates that you accept the relation of logical
> consequence in first-order logic.  Normally, this relation is defined
> set-theoretically, and I believe--please correct me if I am wrong--that to
> define logical consequence requires the existence of an infinite set.

Before a set theory and then model theory and Goedel 
completeness theorem arose, say, in the time of Euclid there 
were no *set-theoretically defined* logical consequence 
relation. There were essentially syntactical (in a broad sense 
of this word) rules of "correct" reasoning.  Newcomers learned 
these rules by training, i.e. as given and, of course by some 
appeal to geometrical and other intuition.  These rules arose 
(due to also some peoples, professional mathematicians) 
according to and SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH creating this intuition.  
Each newcomer simply repeat in a shorter way this creation 
process with the help of a teacher. But he, of course, more 
learn, sometimes even grind than create himself. 

What is said is essentially valid even today for the most of 
mathematicians who know nothing (or forgot, ignore what they 
learned) on mathematical logic and on Goedel completeness 
theorem. Nobody, except logicians, need and use 
set-theoretically defined logical consequence relation in the 
everyday mathematical practice. But each mathematician knows 
sufficiently well what is a "correct" proof, he knows some *rules* 
of mathematical reasoning. That is why formal side of 
mathematics (of course together with corresponding intuition and 
informal semantics!) is the most crucial feature, just 
determining the essence of mathematical rigour. Logicians 
know these rules in more details, more explicitly.  We 
could say that they have somewhat better standards of 
mathematical rigour. When it is necessary mathematicians also 
use quite explicitly and consciously such a high standard (say, 
in manipulating algebraic formulas or integrals and in proofs 
which are more like to calculations). If some new mathematical 
subject will be more sensitive to (the degree of) mathematical 
rigour, they will use appropriate *completely formal* calculus. 
Also mathematicians always will try to find a way to present even 
completely formal proofs informally. This is more understandable. 

What is secondary for mathematics, it is that with the help of 
set theory it is (occasionally) definable formal or mathematical 
semantics of logical calculi and there are provable some 
theorems relating syntax and semantics which have some 
*correlation* with the naive intuition of mathematicians dealing 
essentially (may be nonconsciously) with the same formalisms.  
These correlations are very interesting and important, but they 
do not have any absolute value. We should never mix two kinds of 

(i) the primary, informal (actually vague) semantics and 

(ii) the secondary, formal mathematical (say, semantics of 
A.Tarski for FOL or denotational semantics of D.Scott for 
type-free lambda calculus).  

I see such a mixing when in a general context (i.e. not in the 
framework of ZFC or the like) somebody says on "standard" or 
"unique, the same for all of us" model of PA. Who can know what 
I mean when thinking informally on natural numbers to say that 
they are the same as his own? And what does it mean that they 
are the same for all of us? We all have only some correlations 
in our understanding.  The only objective or most solid thing is 
a formalism which we altogether agreed to consider and, say, 
some practical experiments confirming in such and such concrete 
sense some essential (not necessary all) postulates or theorems 
of the formalism. 

Thus, in principle it is possible that mathematicians (or 
logicians which are also mathematicians) will formalize some new 
intuition by some new formalism based on some new logic (may be 
close to FOL) which will not have the ordinary semantics in 
set-theoretic terms at all. May be there will be found a 
mathematical semantics of this formalism in quite unusual terms 
(as it was somewhat inexpected the mentioned above "continuous" 
semantics of D.Scott) or it will not be found soon (again as for 
lambda calculus which existed rather long time without a 
mathematical semantics, except probably operational one in terms 
of conversion/reduction). Anyway, we have a formalized 
intuition, and this is the *necessary and sufficient condition* 
to do a mathematics in principle. Any mathematical semantics in 
any terms serves only as something additional, illuminating, 
clarifying, helping our intuition, something extremely 
important, but not replacing the informal intuition. 

An example of such a formalization, FEAS, of the intuition on 
feasible numbers was very roughly outlined in my posting to fom 
on 22 Oct 1998.  It was crucial there that any proof in a 
formalism should have feasible size (say, written on a number of 
physically existing sheets of paper or in hard disk of a really 
existing computer). Also the proof should be completely formal.  
Say, any abbreviations may be used only if they are already a 
part of the formalism considered. More precisely, it is only our 
informal view that some kind of formal rules serve as 
abbreviations.  Formally, they are the same rules as modus 
ponens, reductio ad absurdum, etc.  But if we postulate *some* 
abbreviation rules in our formalism and say nothing about others 
then these others abbreviations are simply not allowed at all.  
(Compare: If Choice Axiom is not postulated then it is not 
allowed to use it even implicitly. In FEAS it is allowed in 
principle to abbreviate formulas and even (sub)proofs, but not 
terms. What could this mean exactly is a separate question and 
may be formalized in different ways.) As a result, it is 
possible that given formalism may be feasibly consistent, but it 
becomes inconsistent if some forbidden (i.e. not postulated 
explicitly) abbreviations will be used. 

Note again, that (for formalizing a reasonable logical 
consequence relation) it is unnecessary to have in advance any 
Tarski-model- or Kripke-model- or Kleene-realizability-model- or 
set- or semiset- or fuzzy-set- or I do not know which theory. We 
need only some initial, possibly very vague intuition on the 
intended universe of our formal reasoning (such as feasible 
numbers) and a serious desire to find a reasonable formalism 
(here - FEAS) which corresponds to this intuition and which will 
make it a *mathematical* one.  The problem to find corresponding 
model theory is, of course, very interesting. But at present, 
for the case of FEAS and the like, it is difficult to say 
anything definite on it. Moreover, as I wrote on 22 Oct 1998, it 
is provable in FEAS both A and \neg A for some concrete formula 
A (without a formal contradiction; not every sentence is 
provable in FEAS!). This means that we have formalism with some 
very unusual notion of truth, or, better to say, with unusual 
features of correspondence, adequateness of the formalism to 
intuition.  Further experience with this and analogous 
formalisms will show whether these features are a misfortune or 
may be some advantage.  I tried to give an argument in favor of 
the latter in my posting on 22 Oct 1998. Anyway, *some* 
(feasibly) consistent formal theory describing our intuition on 
feasibility is presented and we may continue to experiment with 

At least, we may consider this simply as an *exercise* in 
creating a formalism starting from a simple and raw intuition. 
Who can suggest anything better?

In the case of (now) traditional mathematical formalisms like 
Euclidean geometry or Peano arithmetic or ZFC we get systems 
more stable with respect to length of (even imaginary) proofs.  
We also have a good model theory for formalisms of this kind.  
Of course the situation here is at present much more clear and 
convenient for us than in the case of feasible arithmetic. But 
we know that this "paradise", say, in geometry and set theory 
existed not always. Why should we hope on a "paradise" with 
feasible numbers right at the beginning having actually only 
very sporadic (even since the first work of Parikh in 1971) 
experience with formalizing this concept? 

Let me note also existence of some other not mentioned yet 
related works on feasibility (the length of proofs aspect) by 
Robin Gandy, Vladimir Orevkov, Alessandra Carbone and Stephen 
Semmes.  There are also some other works on feasibility of a 
different character. 

> (If
> logical consequence is to be defined some other way, I think you will
> still need an infinite bunch of things.)

As I wrote above the logical consequence is defined via some 
*formal* rules corresponding to intuition and simultaneously 
making the intuition to be more advanced, more mathematical.

Probably, *feasible* (or "additive") numbers (which are 
intuitively closed under successor and sum) constitute such an 
infinite "bunch of things" you ask, as well as so called 
*middle* numbers (which all are < 1000 and, nevertheless, also 
closed under successor; cf. again my posting on 22 Oct 1998). We 
may also consider another "infinity" of "polynomial numbers", 
etc. What is the *precise* relation of these infinities to 
logical consequence, I do not know.  I know only by examples and 
by intuition that completely formal and rigorous system FEAS has 
some reasonable very informal interpretation in the "infinity" 
of "all" feasible numbers. 

> In fact, I think it is also the
> case--again, please correct me if I am wrong--that you'll need to say
> something about *all subsets* of an infinite set.  I am not claiming in
> this latter case that you will strictly need a *transfinite* set, but I
> believe you will still need to give an account of *all subsets* of an
> infinite set (which may be difficult without postulating a transfinite
> set).
>         In short, I can't see how you can speak intelligibly of
> first-order logic within a finitistic framework.

By formal and intuitively reasonable, plausible *finitary* rules. 

By the way, if we are "living" in a world with *partial* 
(recursive) exponential function, can we prove completeness of 
the classical FOL or even Propositional Calculus in this world?  
(Compare with the question NP=?Co-NP.) Alternatively, is FOL 
"really" complete? (Cf. also my paper in LNCS 118 (1981)).  May 
be we "really" should have a kind of incompleteness of FOL?  Or 
should/can we just consistently(?) *postulate* completeness 
which also seems plausible and is very desirable? 

Vladimir Sazonov
-- 			   | Tel. +7-08535-98945 (Inst.),
Computer Logic Lab.,	   | Tel. +7-08535-98953 (Inst.),
Program Systems Institute, | Tel. +7-08535-98365 (home),
Russian Acad. of Sci.	   | Fax. +7-08535-20566
Pereslavl-Zalessky,	   | e-mail: sazonov at
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