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7: Generalized Induction

We now give a generalized induction principle for proving statements about any well

ordered set (see Anderson).

Let X be a set well ordered by a relation <. Let S(x) be a statement about an element x of

X. To prove that S(x) is true for all x ∈ X, it suffices to prove the following.

(i) S(x0) is true, where x0 is the least element of X.

(ii) For any x ∈ X such that x0 < x, if S(y) is true for all y < x, then S(x) is also true.

As with other forms of induction, (i) is called the basis, (ii) is the induction step, and the

antecedent of the conditional in (ii) is the induction hypothesis. If X is the set of

integers greater than or equal to some x0 and < is the usual order relation on the integers,

then the generalized induction principle is identical to the strong induction principle.

We can appeal to the properties of well ordering to prove the validity of the

generalized induction principle. As a special case, the following theorem also asserts the

validity of the strong induction principle.

The generalized induction principle is a valid proof technique.

Proof:

Suppose that X is a set well ordered by the relation < and that S(x) is a statement about an

element x of X for which we have proven (i) and (ii) in the statement of the generalized

induction principle. We must show that it then follows that S(x) is true for all x ∈ X. We

do so by contradiction. So suppose that S(x) is not true for all x ∈ X. Then let

A = {x ∈ X | S(x) is false}

Since (by assumption) S(x) is not true for all x ∈ A, A is a nonempty subset of X. Since X

is well ordered by <, A contains a least element a0. By definition, S(a0) is false, and,

furthermore, a0 is the least element of X for which S(x) is false. Thus, S(y) is true for all

y < a0 (if there are any such y). There are two cases, depending on whether or not a0 is

the least element in X.

Case 1 (a0 is the least element in X): In this case, the falsity of S(a0) contradicts the fact

that S(a0) was proven true by step (i) in the generalized induction principle.

Case 2 (a0 is not the least element in X): In this case, S(y) is true for all y < a0 (since a0 is

the least element of X for which S(x) is false). From this and from step (ii) in the

generalized induction principle, it follows that S(a0) is true − contradicting the falsity

of S(a0).

Thus, in either case we have a contradiction. Hence S(x) is true for all x ∈ X (that is, A is

empty, and there is no least element a0 of A).

1

Example IV.7.1:

Consider the following sequence of natural numbers:

s0,0 = 0

For any pair 〈m,n〉 ∈ ´2 except 〈0,0〉,

s m −1,n + 1 if n = 0

s m,n =

s m , n−1 + 1 otherwise

We wish to show that, for all pairs 〈m,n〉 ∈ ´2, sm,n = m + n. We do so by generalized

induction on the set ´2, which is well ordered by the simple lexicographical ordering <l.

Proof:

Basis: We prove that sm,n = m + n is true where 〈m,n〉 is the least element of ´2. Since

〈0,0〉 is the least element in ´2, we need to show that

s0,0 = 0 + 0 = 0

But this is true by the by the definition of s0,0.

Induction Step: We prove, for all 〈m,n〉 ∈ ´2 such that 〈0,0〉 < 〈m,n〉, that, if

sm′,n′ = m′ + n′ is true for all 〈m′,n′〉 < 〈m,n〉

then

sm,n = m + n

So assume (as the induction hypothesis) that

sm′,n′ = m′ + n′ is true for all 〈m′,n′〉

It remains, then, to prove that sm,n = m + n. To do so, we distinguish two cases,

following the definition of sm,n.

Case 1 (n = 0): In this case, we have by defintion sm,n = sm-1,n + 1. But

〈m-1,n〉 <l 〈m,n〉, so, by the induction hypothesis, sm-1,n = (m - 1) + n. Therefore,

sm,n = sm-1,n + 1 = (m - 1 + n) +1 = m + n,

as required.

Case 2 (n ≠ 0): In this case, we have by defintion sm,n = sm,n-1 +1. But

〈m,n-1〉 <l 〈m,n〉, so, by the induction hypothesis, sm,n-1 = m + (n - 1). Therefore,

sm,n = sm,n-1 + 1 = (m + n - 1) +1 = m + n,

as required.

2

Exercises:

s1,1 = 5

For any pair 〈m,n〉 of positive integers except 〈1,1〉,

s m −1,n + 2 if n = 1

s m,n =

s m ,n −1 + 2 if n ≠ 1

Prove by (generalized) induction that, for all pairs of positive integers 〈m,n〉,

sm,n = 2⋅(m + n) + 1

(Note that the induction here is over pairs of positive integers, with least element 〈1,1〉.)

s0,0 = 0

For any pair 〈m,n〉 ∈ ´2 except 〈0,0〉,

s m −1,n + 1 if n = 0

s m,n =

s m ,n−1 + n if n ≠ 0

Prove by (generalized) induction that, for all pairs of natural numbers 〈m,n〉,

n ( n + 1)

sm,n = +m

2

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