The Consistency of Arithmetic


  • Robert K. Meyer Australian National University



This paper offers an elementary proof that formal arithmetic is consistent. The system that will be proved consistent is a first-order theory R♯, based as usual on the Peano postulates and the recursion equations for + and ×. However, the reasoning will apply to any axiomatizable extension of R♯ got by adding classical arithmetical truths. Moreover, it will continue to apply through a large range of variation of the un- derlying logic of R♯, while on a simple and straightforward translation, the classical first-order theory P♯ of Peano arithmetic turns out to be an exact subsystem of R♯. Since the reasoning is elementary, it is formalizable within R♯ itself; i.e., we can actually demonstrate within R♯ (or within P♯, if we care) a statement that, in a natural fashion, asserts the consistency of R♯ itself.

The reader is unlikely to have missed the significance of the remarks just made. In plain English, this paper repeals Goedel’s famous second theorem. (That’s the one that asserts that sufficiently strong systems are inadequate to demonstrate their own consistency.) That theorem (or at least the significance usually claimed for it) was a mis- take—a subtle and understandable mistake, perhaps, but a mistake nonetheless. Accordingly, this paper reinstates the formal program which is often taken to have been blasted away by Goedel’s theorems— namely, the Hilbert program of demonstrating, by methods that everybody can recognize as effective and finitary, that intuitive mathematics is reliable. Indeed, the present consistency proof for arithmetic will be recognized as correct by anyone who can count to 3. (So much, indeed, for the claim that the reliability of arithmetic rests on transfinite induction up to ε0, and for the incredible mythology that underlies it.)


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