Ordinal analysis

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In proof theory, ordinal analysis assigns ordinals (often large countable ordinals) to mathematical theories as a measure of their strength. The field was formed when Gerhard Gentzen in 1934 used cut elimination to prove, in modern terms, that the proof-theoretic ordinal of Peano arithmetic is ε0.


Ordinal analysis concerns true, effective (recursive) theories that can interpret a sufficient portion of arithmetic to make statements about ordinal notations. The proof-theoretic ordinal of such a theory is the smallest recursive ordinal that the theory cannot prove is well founded—the supremum of all ordinals for which there exists a notation in Kleene's sense such that proves that is an ordinal notation. Equivalently, it is the supremum of all ordinals such that there exists a recursive relation on (the set of natural numbers) that well-orders it with ordinal and such that proves transfinite induction of arithmetical statements for .

The existence of any recursive ordinal that the theory fails to prove is well ordered follows from the bounding theorem, as the set of natural numbers that an effective theory proves to be ordinal notations is a set (see Hyperarithmetical theory). Thus the proof-theoretic ordinal of a theory will always be a countable ordinal less than the Church–Kleene ordinal .

In practice, the proof-theoretic ordinal of a theory is a good measure of the strength of a theory. If theories have the same proof-theoretic ordinal they are often equiconsistent, and if one theory has a larger proof-theoretic ordinal than another it can often prove the consistency of the second theory.


Theories with proof-theoretic ordinal ω2[edit]

  • RFA, rudimentary function arithmetic.[1]
  • 0, arithmetic with induction on Δ0-predicates without any axiom asserting that exponentiation is total.

Theories with proof-theoretic ordinal ω3[edit]

Friedman's grand conjecture suggests that much "ordinary" mathematics can be proved in weak systems having this as their proof-theoretic ordinal.

Theories with proof-theoretic ordinal ωn (for n = 2, 3, ... ω)[edit]

  • 0 or EFA augmented by an axiom ensuring that each element of the n-th level of the Grzegorczyk hierarchy is total.

Theories with proof-theoretic ordinal ωω[edit]

Theories with proof-theoretic ordinal ε0[edit]

Theories with proof-theoretic ordinal the Feferman–Schütte ordinal Γ0[edit]

This ordinal is sometimes considered to be the upper limit for "predicative" theories.

Theories with proof-theoretic ordinal the Bachmann–Howard ordinal[edit]

Theories with larger proof-theoretic ordinals[edit]

  • , Π11 comprehension has a rather large proof-theoretic ordinal, which was described by Takeuti in terms of "ordinal diagrams", and which is bounded by ψ0ω) in Buchholz's notation. It is also the ordinal of , the theory of finitely iterated inductive definitions.
  • T0, Feferman's constructive system of explicit mathematics has a larger proof-theoretic ordinal, which is also the proof-theoretic ordinal of the KPi, Kripke–Platek set theory with iterated admissibles and .
  • KPM, an extension of Kripke–Platek set theory based on a Mahlo cardinal, has a very large proof-theoretic ordinal ϑ, which was described by Rathjen (1990).
  • MLM, an extension of Martin-Löf type theory by one Mahlo-universe, has an even larger proof-theoretic ordinal ψΩ1M + ω).

Most theories capable of describing the power set of the natural numbers have proof-theoretic ordinals that are so large that no explicit combinatorial description has yet (as of 2008) been given. This includes second-order arithmetic and set theories with powersets. (The CZF and Kripke-Platek set theories mentioned above are weak set theories without powersets.)

See also[edit]


  • Buchholz, W.; Feferman, S.; Pohlers, W.; Sieg, W. (1981), Iterated inductive definitions and sub-systems of analysis, Lecture Notes in Math., 897, Berlin: Springer-Verlag, doi:10.1007/BFb0091894, ISBN 978-3-540-11170-2
  • Pohlers, Wolfram (1989), Proof theory, Lecture Notes in Mathematics, 1407, Berlin: Springer-Verlag, doi:10.1007/978-3-540-46825-7, ISBN 3-540-51842-8, MR 1026933
  • Pohlers, Wolfram (1998), "Set Theory and Second Order Number Theory", Handbook of Proof Theory, Studies in Logic and the Foundations of Mathematics, 137, Amsterdam: Elsevier Science B. V., pp. 210–335, doi:10.1016/S0049-237X(98)80019-0, ISBN 0-444-89840-9, MR 1640328
  • Rathjen, Michael (1990), "Ordinal notations based on a weakly Mahlo cardinal.", Arch. Math. Logic, 29 (4): 249–263, doi:10.1007/BF01651328, MR 1062729
  • Rathjen, Michael (2006), "The art of ordinal analysis", International Congress of Mathematicians (PDF), II, Zürich,: Eur. Math. Soc., pp. 45–69, MR 2275588, Archived from the original on 2009-12-22CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  • Rose, H.E. (1984), Subrecursion. Functions and Hierarchies, Oxford logic guides, 9, Oxford, New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press
  • Schütte, Kurt (1977), Proof theory, Grundlehren der Mathematischen Wissenschaften, 225, Berlin-New York: Springer-Verlag, pp. xii+299, ISBN 3-540-07911-4, MR 0505313
  • Takeuti, Gaisi (1987), Proof theory, Studies in Logic and the Foundations of Mathematics, 81 (Second ed.), Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Co., ISBN 0-444-87943-9, MR 0882549
  1. ^ Krajicek, Jan (1995). Bounded Arithmetic, Propositional Logic and Complexity Theory. Cambridge University Press. pp. 18–20. ISBN 9780521452052. defines the rudimentary sets and rudimentary functions, and proves them equivalent to the Δ0-predicates on the naturals. An ordinal analysis of the system can be found in Rose, H. E. (1984). Subrecursion: functions and hierarchies. University of Michigan: Clarendon Press. ISBN 9780198531890.