Avigad MLC — 4: Sequent calculi vs tableaux?

Jeremy Avigad’s book is turning out to be not quite what I was expecting. The pace and (often) compression can make for rather surprisingly tough going.There is a shortage of motivational chat, which could make the book a challenging read for its intended audience.

Still, I’m cheerfully pressing on through the book, with enjoyment. As I put it before, I’m polishing off some rust — and improving my mental map of the logical terrain. So, largely as an aide memoire for when I get round to updating the Beginning Mathematical Logic Guide next year, I’ll keep on jotting down a few notes, and I will keep posting them here in case anyone else is interested.


MLC continues, then, with Chapter 6 on Cut Elimination. And the order of explanation is, I think, interestingly and attractively novel.

Yes, things begin in a familiar way. §6.1 introduces a standard sequent calculus for (minimal and) intuitionistic FOL logic without identity. §6.2 then, again in the usual way, gives us a sequent calculus for classical logic by adopting Gentzen’s device of allowing more than one wff to the right of the sequent sign. But then A notes that we can trade in two-sided sequents, which allow sets of wffs on both sides, for one-sided sequents where everything originally on the left gets pushed to the right of sequent side (being negated as it goes). These one-sided sequents (if that’s really the best label for them) are, as far as I can recall, not treated at all in Negri and von Plato’s lovely book on structural proof theory; and they are mentioned as something of an afterthought at the end of the relevant chapter on Gentzen systems in Troelstra and Schwichtenberg. But here in MLC they are promoted to centre stage.

So in §6.2 we are introduced to a calculus for classical FOL using such one-sided, disjunctively-read, sequents (we can drop the sequent sign as now redundant) — and it is taken that we are dealing with wffs in ‘negation normal form’, i.e. with conditionals eliminated and negation signs pushed as far as possible inside the scope of other logical operators so that they attach only to atomic wffs. This gives us a very lean calculus. There’s the rule that any \Gamma, A, \neg A with A atomic counts as an axiom. There’s just one rule each for \land, \lor, \forall, \exists. There also is a cut rule, which tells us that from \Gamma, A and \Gamma, {\sim}{A} we can infer \Gamma (here {\sim}{A} is notation for the result of putting the negation of A in negation normal form).

And Avidgad  now proves twice over that this cut rule is eliminable. So first in §6.3 we get a semantics-based proof that the calculus without cut is already sound and complete. Then in §6.4 we get a proof-theoretic argument that cuts can be eliminated one at a time, starting with cuts on the most complex formulas, with a perhaps exponential increase in the depth of the proof at each stage — you know the kind of thing! Two comments:

  1. The details of the semantic proof will strike many readers as familiar — closely related to the soundness and completeness proofs for a Smullyan-style tableaux system for FOL. And indeed, it’s an old idea that Gentzen-style proofs and certain kind of tableaux can be thought of as essentially the same, though conventionally written in opposite up-down directions (see Ch XI of Smullyan’s 1968 classic First-Order Logic). In the present case, Avigad’s one-sided sequent calculus without cut is in effect a block tableau system for negation normal formulas where every wff is signed F. Given that those readers whose background comes from logic courses  for philosophers will probably be familiar with tableaux (truth-trees), and indeed given the elegance of Smullyan systems, I think it is perhaps a pity that A misses the opportunity to spend a little time on the connections.
  2. A’s sparse one-sided calculus does make for a nicely minimal context in which to run a bare-bones proof-theoretic argument for the eliminability of the cut rule, where we have to look at a very small number of different cases in developing the proof instead of having to hack through the usual clutter. That’s a very nice device! I have to report though that, to my mind, A’s mode of presentation doesn’t really make the proof any more accessible than usual. In fact, once again  the compression makes for quite hard going (even though I came to it knowing in principle what was supposed to be going on, I often had to re-read). Even just a few more examples along the way of cuts being moved would surely have helped.

To continue (and I’ll be briefer) §6.5 looks at proof-theoretic treatments of cut elimination for intuitionistic logic, and §6.6 adds axioms for identity into the sequent calculi and proves cut elimination again. §6.7 is called ‘Variations on Cut Elimination’ with a first look at what can happen with theories other than the theory of identity when presented in sequent form. Finally §6.8 returns to intuitionistic logic and (compare §6.5) this time gives a nice semantic argument for the eliminability of cut, going via a generalization of Kripke models.

All very good stuff, and I learnt from this. But I hope it doesn’t sound too ungrateful to say that a student new to sequent calculi and cut-elimination proofs would still do best to read a few chapters of Negri and von Plato (for example) first, in order to later be able get a lively appreciation of §6.4 and the following sections of MLC.

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