Frege's theorem

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In metalogic and metamathematics, Frege's theorem is a metatheorem that states that the Peano axioms of arithmetic can be derived in second-order logic from Hume's principle. It was first proven, informally, by Gottlob Frege in his Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik (The Foundations of Arithmetic),[page needed] published in 1884, and proven more formally in his Grundgesetze der Arithmetik (Basic Laws of Arithmetic),[page needed] published in two volumes, in 1893 and 1903. The theorem was re-discovered by Crispin Wright in the early 1980s and has since been the focus of significant work. It is at the core of the philosophy of mathematics known as neo-logicism (at least of the Scottish School variety).


In The Foundations of Arithmetic (1884), and later, in Basic Laws of Arithmetic (vol. 1, 1893; vol. 2, 1903), Frege attempted to derive all of the laws of arithmetic from axioms he asserted as logical (see logicism). Most of these axioms were carried over from his Begriffsschrift; the one truly new principle was one he called the Basic Law V (now known as the axiom schema of unrestricted comprehension):[1] the "value-range" of the function f(x) is the same as the "value-range" of the function g(x) if and only if ∀x[f(x) = g(x)]. However, not only did Basic Law V fail to be a logical proposition, but the resulting system proved to be inconsistent, because it was subject to Russell's paradox.[2] The inconsistency in Frege's Grundgesetze overshadowed Frege's achievement: according to Edward Zalta, the Grundgesetze "contains all the essential steps of a valid proof (in second-order logic) of the fundamental propositions of arithmetic from a single consistent principle."[2] This achievement has become known as Frege's theorem.[2][3]

Frege's theorem in propositional logic[edit]

( P ( Q R )) (( P Q ) ( P R ))
No Green tickY No No Green tickY Green tickY
No Green tickY No Yes Green tickY Green tickY
No Green tickY Yes No Green tickY Green tickY
No Green tickY Yes Yes Green tickY Green tickY
Yes Green tickY No No Green tickY Green tickY
Yes Green tickY No Yes Green tickY Green tickY
Yes Red XN Yes No Green tickY Red XN
Yes Green tickY Yes Yes Green tickY Green tickY
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

In propositional logic, Frege's theorems refers to this tautology:

(P → (QR)) → ((PQ) → (PR))

The truth table to the right gives a proof. For all possible assignments of false () or true () to P, Q, and R (columns 1, 3, 5), each subformula is evaluated according to the rules for material conditional, the result being shown below its main operator. Column 6 shows that the whole formula evaluates to true in every case, i.e. that it is a tautology. In fact, its antecedent (column 2) and its consequent (column 10) are even equivalent.


  1. ^ Richard Pettigrew, "Basic set theory", January 26, 2012, p. 2.
  2. ^ a b c Zalta, Edward (2013), "Frege's Theorem and Foundations for Arithmetic", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  3. ^ Boolos, George (1998). Logic, Logic, and Logic. Edited by Richard C. Jeffrey, introduction by John P. Burgess. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. p. 154. ISBN 9780674537675. OCLC 37509971. Frege's startling discovery, of which he may or may not have been fully aware and which has been lost to view since the discovery of Russell's paradox, was that arithmetic can be derived in a purely logical system like that of his Begriffsschrift from this consistent principle and from it alone.