Reductio Ad Absurdum

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reductio ad absurdum

[ri¦dək·tē·ō äd ab′sərd·əm]
A method of proof in which it is first supposed that the fact to be proved is false, and then it is shown that this supposition leads to the contradiction of accepted facts. Also known as indirect proof; proof by contradiction.

Reductio Ad Absurdum


the type of proof in which the proving of a judgment (the thesis of the proof) is achieved by the refutation of the judgment contradicting it—its antithesis. The refutation of the antithesis is achieved by establishing the fact that it is incompatible with any judgment whose truth has been established. The following pattern of proof corresponds to this form of reductio ad absurdum: if B is true and the falsity of B follows from A, then A is false.

Another, more general, form of reductio ad absurdum is proof by refutation (establishment of the falsity) of the antithesis according to the rule: having assumed A, we deduce a contradiction, consequently not-A. Here A can be either a positive or a negative judgment, and the deduction of the contradiction can be interpreted either as the deduction of the assertion of the identity of objects known to be different, or as the deduction of the pair of judgments B and not-B, or as the deduction of the conjunction of this pair, or as the deduction of the equivalency of this pair. The different interpretations of the concepts reductio ad absurdum and “contradiction” correspond to these different cases.

The method of reductio ad absurdum is especially important in mathematics: many negative judgments of mathematics cannot be proved by any means other than reduction to a contradiction. Besides those indicated above, there is another—paradoxical—form of reductio ad absurdum, which was used by Euclid in his Elements: judgment A can be considered proven if one can show that A results even from the asumption of the falsity of A.