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Inconsistent Mathematics

Inconsistent mathematics is the study of commonplace mathematical objects, like sets,

numbers, and functions, where some contradictions are allowed. Tools from formal logic
are used to make sure any contradictions are contained and that the overall theories
remain coherent. Inconsistent mathematics began as a response to the set theoretic and
semantic paradoxes such as Russell’s Paradox and the Liar Paradox—the response being
that these are interesting facts to study rather than problems to solve—and has so far
been of interest primarily to logicians and philosophers. More recently, though, the
techniques of inconsistent mathematics have been extended into wider mathematical
fields, such as vector spaces and topology, to study inconsistent structure for its own

To be precise, a mathematical theory is a collection of sentences, the theorems, which

are deduced through logical proofs. A contradiction is a sentence together with its
negation, and a theory is inconsistent if it includes a contradiction. Inconsistent
mathematics considers inconsistent theories. As a result, inconsistent mathematics
requires careful attention to logic. In classical logic, a contradiction is always absurd: a
contradiction implies everything. A theory containing every sentence is trivial. Classical
logic therefore makes nonsense of inconsistency and is inappropriate for inconsistent
mathematics. Classical logic predicts that the inconsistent has no structure. A
paraconsistent logic guides proofs so that contradictions do not necessarily lead to
triviality. With a paraconsistent logic, mathematical theories can be both inconsistent
and interesting.

This article discusses inconsistent mathematics as an active research program, with

some of its history, philosophy, results and open questions.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1. An Example
2. Background
1. Motivations
2. Perspectives
3. Methods
4. Proofs
3. Geometry
4. Set Theory
5. Arithmetic
6. Analysis
7. Computer Science
8. References and Further Reading
1. Further Reading
2. References

1. Introduction
Inconsistent mathematics arose as an independent discipline in the twentieth century, as
the result of advances in formal logic. In the nineteenth century, a great deal of extra
emphasis was placed on formal rigor in proofs, because various confusions and
contradictions had appeared in the analysis of real numbers. To remedy the situation
required examining the inner workings of mathematical arguments in full detail.
Mathematics had always been conducted through step-by-step proofs, but formal logic
was intended to exert an extra degree of control over the proofs, to ensure that all and
only the desired results would obtain. Various reconstructions of mathematical reasoning
were advanced.

One proposal was classical logic, pioneered by Giuseppe Peano, Gottlob Frege, and
Bertrand Russell. Another was paraconsistent logic, arising out of the ideas of Jan
Łukasiewicz and N. A. Vasil’év around 1910, and first realized in full by Jakowski in 1948.
The first to suggest paraconsistency as a ground for inconsistent mathematics was
Newton da Costa in Brazil in 1958. Since then, his school has carried on a study of
paraconsistent mathematics. Another school, centered in Australia and most associated
with the name of Graham Priest, has been active since the 1970s. Priest and Richard
Routley have forwarded the thesis that some inconsistent theories are not only
interesting, but true; this is dialetheism.

Like any branch of mathematics, inconsistent mathematics is the study of abstract

structures using proofs. Paraconsistent logic offers an unusually exacting proof guide
that makes sure inconsistency does not get out of hand. Paraconsistency is not a magic
wand or panacea. It is a methodology for hard work. Paraconsistency only helps us from
getting lost, or falling into holes, when navigating through rough terrain.

a. An Example

Consider a collection of objects. The collection has some size, the number of objects in
the collection. Now consider all the ways that these objects could be recombined. For
instance, if we are considering the collection {a, b}, then we have four possible
recombinations: just a, just b, both a and b, or neither a nor b. In general, if a collection
has κ members, it has 2κ recombinations. It is a theorem from the nineteenth century
that, even if the collections in question are infinitely large, still κ < 2 κ, that is, the
number of recombinations is always strictly larger than the number of objects in the
original collection. This is Georg Cantor’s theorem.

Now consider the collection of all objects, the universe, V. This collection has some size,
|V|, and quite clearly, being by definition the collection of everything, this size is the
absolutely largest size any collection can be. (Any collection is contained in the universe
by definition, and so is no bigger than the universe.) By Cantor’s theorem, though, the
number of recombinations of all the objects exceeds the original number of objects. So
the size of the recombinations is both larger than, and cannot be larger than, the

This is Cantor’s paradox. Inconsistent mathematics is unique in that, if rigorously argued,

Cantor’s paradox is a theorem.
2. Background
a. Motivations

There are at least two reasons to take an interest in inconsistent mathematics, which
roughly fall under the headings of pure and applied. The pure reason is to study
structure for its own sake. Whether or not it has anything to do with physics, for
example, Reimann geometry is beautiful. If the ideas displayed in inconsistent
mathematics are rich and elegant and support unexpected developments that make
deep connections, then people will study it. G. H. Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology
(1940) makes a stirring case that pure mathematics is inherently worth doing, and
inconsistent mathematics provides some panoramic views not available anywhere else.

The applied reasons derive from a longstanding project at the foundations of

mathematics. Around 1900, David Hilbert proposed a program to ensure mathematical
security. Hilbert wanted:

• to formalize all mathematical reasoning into an exact notation with algorithmic

• to provide axioms for all mathematical theories, such that no contradictions are
provable (consistency), and all true facts are provable (completeness).

Hilbert’s program was (in part) a response to a series of conceptual crises and responses
from ancient Greece through Issac Newton and G. W. Leibniz (see section 6 below) to
Cantor. Each crisis arose due to the imposition of some objects that did not behave well
in the theories of the day—most dramatically in Russell’s paradox, which seems to be
about logic itself.

The inconsistency would not have been such trouble, except the logic employed at that
time was explosive: From a contradiction, anything at all can be proved, so Russell’s
paradox was a disaster. In 1931, Kurt Gödel’s theorems showed that consistency is
incompatible with completeness, that any complete foundation for mathematics will be
inconsistent. Hilbert’s program as stated is dead, and with it even more ambitious
projects like Frege-Russell logicism.

The failure of completeness was hard to understand. Hilbert and many others had felt
that any mathematical question should be amenable to a mathematical answer. The
motive to inconsistency, then, is that an inconsistent theory can be complete. In light of
Gödel’s result, an inconsistent foundation for mathematics is the only remaining
candidate for completeness.

b. Perspectives

There are different ways to view the place of inconsistent mathematics, ranging from the
ideological to the pragmatic.

The most extreme view is that inconsistent mathematics is a rival to, or replacement for,
classical consistent mathematics. This seems to have been Routley’s intent. Routley
wanted to perfect an “ultramodal universal logic,” which would be a flexible and
powerful reasoning tool applicable to all subjects and in all situations. Routley argued
that some subjects and situations are intractably inconsistent, and so the universal logic
would be paraconsistent. He wanted such a logic to underly not only set theory and
arithmetic, but metaphysics, ecology and economics. (For example, Routley and Meyer
[1976] suggest that our economic woes are caused by using classical logic in economic
theory.) Rotuley (1980, p.927) writes:

There are whole mathematical cities that have been closed off and partially abandoned
because of the outbreak of isolated contradictions. They have become like modern
restorations of ancient cities, mostly just patched up ruins visited by tourists.

In order to sustain the ultramodal challenge to classical logic it will have to be shown
that even though leading features of classical logic and theories have been rejected, …
by going ultramodal one does not lose great chunks of the modern mathematical
megalopolis. … The strong ultramodal claim—not so far vindicated—is the expectedly
brash one: we can do everything you can do, only better, and we can do more.

A more restrained, but still unorthodox, view is of inconsistency as a non-revisionary

extension of classical theory. There is nothing wrong with the classical picture of
mathematics, says a proponent of this position, except if we think that the classical
picture exhausts all there is to know. A useful analogy is the extension of the rational
numbers by the irrational numbers, to get the real numbers. Rational numbers are not
wrong; they are just not all the numbers. This moderate line is found in Priest’s work. As
articulated by da Costa (1974, p.498):

It would be as interesting to study the inconsistent systems as, for instance, the non-
euclidean geometries: we would obtain a better idea of the nature of certain paradoxes,
could have a better insight on the connections amongst the various logical principles
necessary to obtain determinate results, etc.

In a similar vein, Chris Mortensen argues that many important questions about
mathematics are deeper than consistency or completeness.

A third view is even more open-minded. This is to see all theories (within some basic
constraints) as genuine, interesting and useful for different purposes. Jc Beall and Greg
Restall have articulated a version of this view at length, which they call logical pluralism.

c. Methods

There are at least two ways to go about mathematical research in this field. The first is
axiomatic. The second is model theoretic. The axiomatic approach is very pure. We pick
some axioms and inference rules, some starting assumptions and a logic, and try to
prove some theorems, with the aim of producing something on the model of Euclid, or
Russell and A. N. Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica. This would be a way of obtaining
results in inconsistent mathematics independently, as if we were discovering
mathematics for the first time. On the axiomatic approach there is no requirement that
the same theorems as classical mathematics be proved. The hardest work goes into
choosing a logic that is weak enough to be paraconsistent, but strong enough to get
results, and formulating the definitions and starting assumptions in a way that is
compatible with the logic. Little work has so far been done using axiomatics.
By far more attention has been given to the model theoretic approach, because it allows
inconsistent theories to “ride on the backs” of already developed consistent theories.
The idea here is to build up models—domains of discourse, along with some relations
between the objects in the domain, and an interpretation—and to read off facts about
the attached theory. A way to do this is to take a model from classical mathematics, and
to tinker with the interpretation, as in collapsed models of arithmetic (section 5 below).
The model theoretic approach shows how different logics interact with different
mathematical structures. Mortensen has followed through on this in a wide array of
subjects, from the differential calculus to vector spaces to topology to category theory,
always asking: Under what conditions is identity well-behaved? Let Φ(a) be some
sentence about an object a. Mortensen’s question is, if a = b holds in a theory, then is it
the case that Φ(a) exactly when Φ(b)? It turns out that the answer to this question is
extremely sensitive to small changes in logic and interpretations, and the answer can
often be “no.”

Most of the results obtained to date have been through the model theoretic approach,
which has the advantage of maintaining a connection with classical mathematics. The
model theory approach has the same disadvantage, since it is unlikely that radically new
or robustly inconsistent ideas will arise from always beginning at classical ideas.

d. Proofs

It is often thought that inconsistent mathematics faces a grave problem. A very common
mathematical proof technique is reductio ad absurdum. The concern, then, is that if
contradictions are not absurd—a fortiori, if a theory has contradictions in it—then
reductio is not possible. How can mathematics be done without the most common sort of
indirect proof?

The key to working inconsistent mathematics is its logic. Much hinges on which
paraconsistent logic we are using. For instance, in da Costa’s systems, if a proposition is
marked as “consistent,” then reductio is allowed. Similarly, in most relevance logics,
contraposition holds. And so forth. The reader is recommended to the bibliography for
information on paraconsistent logic. Independently of logic, the following may help.

In classical logic, all contradictions are absurd; in a paraconsistent logic this is not so. But
some things are absurd nevertheless. Classically, contradiction and absurdity play the
same role, of being a rejection device, a reason to rule out some possibility. In
inconsistent mathematics, there are still rejection devices. Anything that leads to a trivial
theory is to be rejected. More, suppose we are doing arithmetic and hypothesize that Φ.
But we find that Φ has as a consequence that j=k for every number j, k. Now, we are
looking for interesting inconsistent structure. This may not be full triviality, but 0 = 1 is
nonsense. Reject Φ.

There are many consistent structures that mathematicians do not, and will never,
investigate, not by force of pure logic but because they are not interesting. Inconsistent
mathematicians, irrespective of formal proof procedures, do the same.

3. Geometry
Intuitively, M. C. Escher’s “Ascending, Descending” is a picture of an impossible structure
—a staircase that, if you walked continuously along it, you would be going both up and
down at the same time. Such a staircase may be called impossible. The structure as a
whole seems to present us with an inconsistent situation; formally, defining down as not
up, then a person walking the staircase would be going up and not up, at the same time,
in the same way, a contradiction. Nevertheless, the picture is coherent and interesting.
What sorts of mathematical properties does it have? The answers to this and more would
be the start of an inconsistent geometry.

So far, the study has focused on the impossible pictures themselves. A systematic study
of these pictures is being carried out by the Adelaide school. Two main results have been
obtained. First, Bruno Ernst conjectured that one cannot rotate an impossible picture.
This was refuted in 1999 by Mortensen; later, Quigley designed computer simulations of
rotating impossible Necker cubes. Second, all impossible pictures have been given a
preliminary classification of four basic forms: Necker cubes, Reutersvärd triangles,
Schuster pipes or fork, and Ernst stairs. It is thought that these forms exhaust the
universe of impossible pictures. If so, an important step towards a fuller geometry will
have been taken, since, for example, a central theme in surface geometry is to classify
surfaces as either convex, flat, or concave.

Most recently, Mortensen and Leishman (2009) have characterized Necker cubes,
including chains of Neckers, using linear algebra. Otherwise, algebraic and analytic
methods have not yet been applied in the same way they have been in classical
geometry. Inconsistent equational expressions are not at the point where a robust
answer can be given to questions of length, area, volume etc. On the other hand, as the
Adelaide school is showing, the ancient Greeks do not have a monopoly on basic “circles
drawn in sand” geometric discoveries.

4. Set Theory
Set theory is one of the most investigated areas in inconsistent mathematics, perhaps
because there is the most consensus that the theories under study might be true. It is
here we have perhaps the most important theorem for inconsistent mathematics, Ross
Brady’s (2006) proof that inconsistent set theory is non-trivial.

Set theory begins with two basic assumptions, about the existence and uniqueness of

• A set is any collection of objects all sharing some property Φ;

• Sets with exactly the same members are identical.

These are the principles of comprehension (a.k.a. abstraction) and extensionality,

respectively. In symbols,

x ∈ {z : Φ(z)} ↔ Φ(x);
x = y ↔ ∀z (z ∈ x ↔ z ∈ y).

Again, these assumptions seem true. When the first assumption, the principle of
comprehension, was proved to have inconsistent consequences, this was felt to be
highly paradoxical. The inconsistent mathematician asserts that a theory implying an
inconsistency is not automatically equivalent to a theory being wrong.

Newton da Costa was the first to develop an openly inconsistent set theory in the 1960s,
based on Alonzo Church’s set theory with a universal set, or what is similar, W. V. O.
Quine’s new foundations. In this system, axioms like those of standard set theory are
assumed, along with the existence of a Russell set

R = {x : x ∉ x}

and a universal set

V = {x : x = x}.

Da Costa has defined “russell relations” and extended this foundation to model theory,
arithmetic and analysis.

Note that V ∈ V, since V = V. This shows that some sets are self-membered. This also
means that V ≠ R, by the axiom of extensionality. On the other hand, in perhaps the first
truly combinatorial theorem of inconsistent mathematics, Arruda and Batens (1982)

where ∪R is the union of R, the set of all the members of members of R. This says that
every set is a member of a non-self-membered set. The Arruda-Batens result was
obtained with a very weak logic, and shows that there are real set theoretical theorems
to be learned about inconsistent objects. Arruda further showed that

where P (X) denotes all the subsets of X and ⊆ is the subset relation.

Routley, meanwhile, in 1977 took up his own dialetheic logic and used it on a full
comprehension principle. Routley went as far as to allow a comprehension principle
where the set being defined could appear in its own definition. A more mundane
example of a set appearing in its own defining condition could be the set of “critics who
only criticize each other.” One of Routley’s examples is the ultimate inconsistent set,

x ∈ Z ↔ x ∉ Z.

Routley indicated that the usual axioms of classical set theory can be proven as
theorems—including a version of the axiom of choice—and began work towards a full
reconstruction of Cantorian set theory.

The crucial step in the development of Routley’s set theory came in 1989 when Brady
adapted an idea from 1971 to produce a model of dialetheic set theory, showing that it is
not trivial. Brady proves that there is a model in which all the axioms and consequences
of set theory are true, including some contradictions like Russell’s, but in which some
sentences are not true. By the soundness of the semantics, then, some sentences are
not provable, and the theory is decidedly paraconsistent. Since then Brady has
considerably refined and expanded his result.

A stream of papers considering models for paraconsistent set theory has been coming
out of Europe as well. Olivier Esser has determined under what conditions the axiom of
choice is true, for example. See Hinnion and Libert (2008) for an opening into this work.

Classical set theory, it is well known, cannot answer some fundamental questions about
infinity, Cantor’s continuum hypothesis being the most famous. The theory is
incomplete, just as Gödel predicted it would be. Inconsistent set theory, on the other
hand, appears to be able to answer some of these questions. For instance, consider a
large cardinal hypothesis, that there are cardinals λ such that for any κ < λ, also 2κ < λ.
The existence of large cardinals is undecidable by classical set theory. But recall the
universe, as we did in the introduction (section 1), and its size |V|. Almost obviously, |V|
is such large a cardinal, just because everything is smaller than it. Taking the full sweep
of sets into account, the hypothesis is true.

Set theory is the lingua franca of mathematics and the home of mathematical study of
infinity. Since Zeno’s paradoxes it has been obvious that there is something paradoxical
about infinity. Since Russell’s paradox, it has been obvious that there is something
paradoxical about set theory. So a rigorously developed paraconsistent set theory serves
two purposes. First, it provides a reliable (inconsistent) foundation for mathematics, at
least in the sense of providing the basic toolkit for expressing mathematical ideas.
Second, the mathematics of infinity can be refined to cover the inconsistent cases like
Cantor’s paradox, and cases that have yet to be considered. See the references for what
has been done in inconsistent set theory so far; what can be still be done in remains one
of the discipline’s most exciting open questions.

5. Arithmetic
An inconsistent arithmetic may be considered an alternative or variant on the standard
theory, like a non-euclidean geometry. Like set theory, though, there are some who think
that an inconsistent arithmetic may be true, for the following reason.

Gödel, in 1931, found a true sentence G about numbers such that, if G can be decided by
arithmetic, then arithmetic is inconsistent. This means that any consistent theory of
numbers will always be an incomplete fragment of the whole truth about numbers.
Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem states that, if arithmetic is consistent, then that
very fact is unprovable in arithmetic. Gödel’s incompleteness theorems state that all
consistent theories are terminally unable to process everything that we know is true
about the numbers. Priest has argued in a series of papers that this means that the
whole truth about numbers is inconsistent.

The standard axioms of arithmetic are Peano’s, and their consequences—the standard
theory of arithmetic—is called P A. The standard model of arithmetic is N = {0, 1, 2, …},
zero and its successors. N is a model of arithmetic because it makes all the right
sentences true. In 1934 Skolem noticed that there are other (consistent) models that
make all the same sentences true, but have a different shape—namely, the non-standard
models include blocks of objects after all the standard members of N. The consistent
non-standard models are all extensions of the standard model, models containing extra
objects. Inconsistent models of arithmetic are the natural dual, where the standard
model is itself an extension of a more basic structure, which also makes all the right
sentences true.

Part of this idea goes back to C. F. Gauss, who first introduced the idea of a modular
arithmetic, like that we use to tell the time on analog clocks: On a clock face, 11 + 2 = 1,
since the hands of the clock revolve around 12. In this case we say that 11 + 2 is
congruent to 1 modulo 12. An important discovery in the late 19th century was that
arithmetic facts are reducible to facts about a successor relation starting from a base
element. In modular arithmetic, a successor function is wrapped around itself. Gauss no
doubt saw this as a useful technical device. Inconsistent number theorists have
considered taking such congruences much more seriously.

Inconsistent arithmetic was first investigated by Robert Meyer in the 1970’s. There he
took the paraconsistent logic R and added to it axioms governing successor, addition,
multiplication, and induction, giving the system R#. In 1975 Meyer proved that his
arithemtic is non-trivial, because R# has models. Most notably, R# has finite models with
a two element domain {0, 1}, with the successor function moving in a very tight circle
over the elements. Such models make all the theorems of R# true, but keep equations
like 0 = 1 just false.

The importance of such finite models is just this: The models can be represented within
the theory itself, showing that a paraconsistent arithmetic can prove its own non-
triviality. In the case of Meyer’s arithemetic, R# has a finitary consistency proof,
formalizable in R#. Thus, in non-classical contexts, Gödel’s second incompleteness
theorem loses its bite. Since 1976 relevance logicians have studied the relationship
between R# and PA. Their hope was that R# contains PA as a subtheory and could
replace PA as a stronger, more genuine arithmetic. The outcome of that project for our
purposes is the development of inconsistent models of arithmetic. Following Dunn,
Meyer, Mortensen, and Friedman, these models have now been extensively studied by
Priest, who bases his work not on the relevant logic R but on the more flexible logic LP.

Priest has found inconsistent arithmetic to have an elegant general structure. Rather
than describe the details, here is an intuitive example. We imagine the standard model
of arithmetic, up to an inconsistent element

n = n + 1.

This n is suspected to be a very, very large number, “without physical reality or

psychological meaning.” Depending on your tastes, it is the greatest finite number or the
least inconsistent number. We further imagine that for j, k > n, we have j=k. If in the
classical model j≠ k, then this is true too; hence we have an inconsistency, j=k and j≠ k.
Any fact true of numbers greater than n are true of n, too, because after n, all numbers
are identical to n. No facts from the consistent model are lost. This technique gives a
collapsed model of arithmetic.

Let T be all the sentences in the language of arithmetic that are true of N; then let T(n)
similarly be all the sentences true of the numbers up to n, an inconsistent number
theory. Since T(n) does not contradict T about any numbers below n, if n > 0 then T(n) is
non-trivial. (It does not prove 0 = 1, for instance.) The sentences of T(n) are
representable in T(n), and its language contains a truth predicate for T(n). The theory
can prove itself sound. The Gödel sentence for T(n) is provable in T(n), as is its negation,
so the theory is inconsistent. Yet as Meyer proved, the non-triviality of T(n) can be
established in T(n) by a finite procedure.

Most striking with respect to Hilbert’s program, there is a way, in principle, to figure out
for any arithmetic sentence Φ whether or not Φ holds, just by checking all the numbers
up to n. This means that T(n) is decidable, and that there must be axioms guaranteed to
deliver every truth about the collapsed model. This means that an inconsistent
arithmetic is coherent and complete.

6. Analysis
Newton and Leibniz independently developed the calculus in the 17th century. They
presented ingenious solutions to outstanding problems (rates of change, areas under
curves) using infinitesimally small quantities. Consider a curve and a tangent to the
curve. Where the tangent line and the curve intersect can be though of as a point. If the
curve is the trajectory of some object in motion, this point is an instant of change. But a
bit of thought shows that it must be a little more than a point—otherwise, as a measure
a rate of change, there would be no change at all, any more than a photograph is in
motion. There must be some smudge. On the other hand, the instant must be less than
any finite quantity, because there are infinitely many such instants. An infinitesimal
would respect both these concerns, and with these provided, a circle could be construed
as infinitely many infinitesimal tangent segments.

Infinitesimals were essential, not only for building up the conceptual steps to inventing
calculus, but in getting the right answers. Yet it was pointed out, most famously by
Bishop George Berkeley, that infinitesimals were poorly understood and were being used
inconsistently in equations. Calculus in its original form was outright inconsistent. Here is
an example. Suppose we are differentiating the polynomial f(x) =ax2+bx+c. Using the
original definition of a derivative,

In the example, ε is an infinitesimal. It marks a small but non-trivial neighborhood around

x, and can be divided by, so it is not zero. Nevertheless, by the end ε has simply
disappeared. This example suggests that paraconsistent logic is more than a useful
technical device. The example shows that Leibniz was reasoning with contradictory
information, and yet did not infer everything. On the contrary, he got the right answer.
Nor is this an isolated incident. Mathematicians seem able to sort through “noise” and
derive interesting truths, even out of contradictory data sets. To capture this, Brown and
Priest (2004) have developed a method they call “chunk and permeate” to model
reasoning in the early calculus. The idea is to take all the information, including say ε =
0 and ε ≠ 0, and break it into smaller chunks. Each chunk is consistent, without
conflicting information, and one can reason using classical logic inside of a chunk. Then a
permeation relation is defined which controls the information flow between chunks. As
long as the permeation relation is carefully defined, conclusions reached in one chunk
can flow to another chunk and enter into reasoning chains there. Brown and Priest
propose this as a model, or rational reconstruction, of what Newton and Leibniz were

Another, more direct tack for inconsistent mathematics is to work with infinitesimal
numbers themselves. There are classical theories of infinitesimals due to Abraham
Robinson (the hyperreals), and J. H. Conway (the surreals). Mortensen has worked with
differential equations using hyperreals. Another approach is from category theory. Tiny
line segments (”linelets”) of length ϵ are considered, such that ϵ2 = 0 but it is not the
case that ϵ = 0. In this theory, it is also not the case that ϵ ≠ 0, so the logical law of
excluded middle fails. The category theory approach is the most like inconsistent
mathematics, then, since it involves a change in the logic. However, the most obvious
way to use linelets with paraconsistent logics, to say that both ϵ = 0 and ϵ ≠ 0 are true,
means we are dividing by 0 and so is probably too coarse to work.

In general the concept of continuity is rich for inconsistent developments. Moments of

change, the flow of time, and the very boundaries that separate objects have all been
considered from the standpoint of inconsistent mathematics.

7. Computer Science
The questions posed by David Hilbert can be stated in very modern language:

Is there a computer program to decide, for any arithmetic statement, whether or not the
statement can be proven? Is there a program to decide, for any arithmetic statement,
whether or not the statement is true? We have already seen that Gödel’s theorems
devastated Hilbert’s program, answering these questions in the negative. However, we
also saw that inconsistent arithmetic overcomes Gödel’s results and can give a positive
answer to these questions. It is natural to extend these ideas into computer science.

Hilbert’s program demands certain algorithms—a step-by-step procedure that can be

carried out without insight or creativity. A Turing machine runs programs, some of which
halt after a finite number of steps, and some of which keep running forever. Is there a
program E that can tell us in advance whether a given program will halt or not? If there
is, then consider the program E*, which exists if E does by defining it as follows. When
considering some program x, E* halts if and only if x keeps running when given input x.

E* halts for E*
if and only if
E* does not halt for E*,

which implies a contradiction. Turing concluded that there is no E*, and so there is no E
—that there cannot be a general decision procedure.

Any program that can decide in advance the behavior of all other programs will be
A paraconsistent system can occasionally produce contradictions as an output, while its
procedure remains completely deterministic. (It is not that the machine occasionally
does and does not produce an output.) There is, in principle, no reason a decision
program cannot exist. Richard Sylvan identifies as a central idea of paraconsistent
computability theory the development of machines “to compute diagonal functions that
are classically regarded as uncomputable.” He discusses a number of rich possibilities
for a non-classical approach to algorithms, including a fixed-point result on the set of all
algorithmic functions, and a prototype for dialetheic machines.

Important results have been obtained by the paraconsistent school in Brazil—da Costa
and Doria in 1994, and Agudelo and Carnielli in 2006. Like quantum computation,
though, at present the theory of paraconsistent machines outstrips the hardware.
Machines that can compute more than Turing machines await advances in physics.

8. References and Further Reading

a. Further Reading

Priest’s In Contradiction (2006) is the best place to start. The second edition contains
material on set theory, continuity, and inconsistent arithmetic (summarizing material
previously published in papers). A critique of inconsistent arithmetic is in Shapiro (2002).
Franz Berto’s book, How to Sell a Contradiction (2007), is harder to find, but also an
excellent and perhaps more gentle introduction.

Some of da Costa’s paraconsistent mathematics is summarized in the interesting

collection Frontiers of Paraconsistency (2000)—the proceedings of a world congress on
paraconsistency edited by Batens et al. More details are in Jacquette’s Philosophy of
Logic (2007) handbook; Beall’s paper in that volume covers issues about truth and

Those wanting more advanced mathematical topics should consult Mortensen’s

Inconsistent Mathematics (1995). For impossible geometry, his recent pair of papers with
Leishman are a promising advance. His school’s website is well worth a visit. Brady’s
Universal Logic (2006) is the most worked-out paraconsistent set theory to date, but not
for the faint of heart.

If you can find it, read Routley’s seminal paper, “Ultralogic as Universal?”, reprinted as
an appendix to his magnum opus, Exploring Meinong’s Jungle (1980). Before too much
confusion arises, note that Richard Routley and Richard Sylvan, whose posthumous work
is collected by Hyde and Priest in Sociative Logics and their Applications (2000), in a
selfless feat of inconsistency, are the same person.

For the how-to of paraconsistent logics, consult both the entry on relevance and
paraconsistency in Gabbay & Günthner’s Handbook of Philosophical Logic volume 6
(2002), or Priest’s textbook An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic (2008). For
paraconsistent logic and its philosophy more generally see Routley, Priest and Norman’s
1989 edited collection. The collection The Law of Non-Contradiction (Priest et al. 2004)
discusses the philosophy of paraconsistency, as does Priest’s Doubt Truth be a Liar
For the broader philosophical issues associated with inconsistent mathematics,
especially in applications (for example, consequences for realism and antirealism
debates), see Mortensen’s recent entry in the Handbook of the Philosophy of Science
(2009, volume 9).

b. References

• Arruda, A. I. & Batens, D. (1982). “Russell’s set versus the universal set in
paraconsistent set theory.” Logique et Analyse, 25, pp. 121-133.
• Batens, D., Mortensen, C. , Priest, G., & van Bendegem, J-P., eds. (2000). Frontiers
of Paraconsistency. Kluwer Academic Publishers.
• Berto, Francesco (2007). How to Sell a Contradiction. Studies in Logic v. 6. College
• Brady, Ross (2006). Universal Logic. CSLI Publications.
• Brown, Bryson & Priest, G. (2004). “Chunk and permeate i: the infinitesimal
calculus.” Journal of Philosophical Logic, 33, pp. 379–88.
• Colyvan, Mark (2008). “The ontological commitments of inconsistent theories.”
Philosophical Studies, 141(1):115 – 23, October.
• da Costa, Newton C. A. (1974). “On the theory of inconsistent formal systems.”
Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, 15, pp. 497– 510.
• da Costa, Newton C. A. (2000). Paraconsistent mathematics. In Batens et al. 2000,
pp. 165–180.
• da Costa, Newton C. A., Sylvester, JJ., Krause, D´ecio & Bueno, Ot´avio (2004).
“Paraconsistent logics and paraconsistency: Technical and philosophical
• da Costa, Newton C.A., Krause, D´ecio & Bueno, Ot´avio (2007). “Paraconsistent
logics and paraconsistency.” In Jacquette 2007, pp. 791 – 912.
• Gabbay, Dov M. & Günthner, F. eds. (2002). Handbook of Philosophical Logic, 2nd
Edition, volume 6, Kluwer.
• Hinnion,Roland & Libert, Thierry (2008). “Topological models for extensional partial
set theory.” Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, 49(1).
• Hyde, Dominic & Priest, G., eds. (2000). Sociative Logics and their Applications:
Essays by the Late Richard Sylvan. Ashgate.
• Jacquette, Dale, ed. (2007). Philosophy of Logic. Elsevier: North Holland.
• Libert, Thierry (2004). “Models for paraconsistent set theory.” Journal of Applied
Logic, 3.
• Mortensen, Chris (1995). Inconsistent Mathematics. Kluwer Academic Publishers.
• Mortensen, Chris (2009). “Inconsistent mathematics: Some philosophical
implications.” In A.D. Irvine, ed., Handbook of the Philosophy of Science Volume 9:
Philosophy of Mathematics. North Holland/Elsevier.
• Mortensen, Chris (2009). “Linear algebra representation of necker cubes II: The
routley functor and necker chains.” Australasian Journal of Logic, 7.
• Mortensen, Chris & Leishman, Steve (2009). “Linear algebra representation of
necker cubes I: The crazy crate.” Australasian Journal of Logic, 7.
• Priest, Graham, Beall, J.C. & Armour-Garb, B., eds. (2004). The Law of Non-
Contradiction. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
• Priest, Graham (1994). “Is arithmetic consistent?” Mind, 103.
• Priest, Graham (2000). “Inconsistent models of arithmetic, II: The general case.”
Journal of Symbolic Logic, 65, pp. 1519–29.
• Priest, Graham (2002). “Paraconsistent logic.” In Gabbay and Günthner, eds. 2002,
pp. 287–394.
• Priest, Graham (2006a). Doubt Truth Be A Liar. Oxford University Press.
• Priest, Graham (2006b). In Contradiction: A Study of the Transconsistent. Oxford
University Press. second edition.
• Priest, Graham (2008). An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic. Cambridge
University Press, second edition.
• Priest, Graham, Routley, R. & Norman, J. eds. (1989). Paraconsistent Logic: Essays
on the Inconsistent. Philosophia Verlag.
• Routley, Richard (1977). “Ultralogic as universal?” Relevance Logic Newsletter, 2,
pp. 51–89. Reprinted in Routley 1980.
• Routley, Richard (1980). “Exploring Meinong’s Jungle and Beyond.” Philosophy
Department, RSSS, Australian National University, 1980. Interim Edition,
Departmental Monograph number 3.
• Routley, Richard & Meyer, R. K. (1976). “Dialectical logic, classical logic and the
consistency of the world.” Studies in Soviet Thought, 16, pp. 1–25.
• Shapiro, Stewart (2002). “Incompleteness and inconsistency.” Mind, 111, pp. 817 –

Author Information

Zach Weber
University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, Australia