In The Mathematical Experience, Study Edition by Philip J. Davis, Reuben Hersh, and Elena Anne Marchisotto it states pp.175-176:

Just what constitutes the "straightness" of the straight line? There is undoubtedly more in this notion than we know and more than we can state in words or formulas. Here is an instance of this "more." Suppose $a$, $b$, $c$, $d$ are four points on a line. Suppose $b$ is between $a$ and $c$, and $c$ is between $b$ and $d$. Then what can we conclude about $a$, $b$, and $d$? It will not take you long to conclude that $b$ must lie between $a$ and $d$.

enter image description here

This fact, surprisingly, cannot be proved from Euclid's axioms; it has to be added as an additional axiom in geometry. This omission of Euclid was first noticed 2000 years after Euclid, by M. Pasch in 1882! Moreover, there are important theorems in Euclid whose complete proof requires Pasch's axiom; without it, the proofs are not valid.

See pp.21-22 for a description of Pasch's axiom and a picture of Pasch from the linked seminar slides: StanfordLogicSeminarApril2014.pdf

From wikipedia: Pasch's axiom

A more informal version of the axiom is often seen:

If a line, not passing through any vertex of a triangle, meets one side of the triangle then it meets another side.

I wanted to know which theorems in the Elements are considered in worst shape as a consequence of Pasch's missing axiom? Also have there been any more axioms found to be missing like Paschs?


One amazing thing about Euclid's Elements is that they have held up despite not meeting the standards of modern axiomatizations. It seems Euclid had excellent intuition, and he seems to have understood Rule #1 of Mathematics: Never prove false statements.

Over the centuries there has been an increasing understanding of what's missing in Euclid, and several increasingly refined updates of Euclid's Elements. My understanding is that it was Hilbert who wrote out the first fully modern axiomatization of Euclidean planar geometry. There are excellent accounts of this in recent textbooks. For a very thorough treatment see Hartshorne's book "Geometry: Euclid and Beyond", and for a brief but pithy account see Stillwell's "Four Pillars of Geometry".

Here's a brief list of missing items, in no particular order of logical dependency.

  • An axiomatization of the order structure or "between-ness" structure along lines. Pasch's axiom is part of this. It's needed in many arguments in the Elements where the concept of "between-ness" is invoked intuitively.
  • A completeness axiom of some kind. Euclid's first result, the construction of an equilateral triangle, depends intuitively on the existence of an intersection point between two circles of equal radius passing through each others centers. This, in turn, depends on some kind of completeness (in modern coordinate geometry terms, we would say that at the least one needs solutions of quadratic equations with non-negative discriminant).
  • An axiomatization of rigid motions. Euclid makes intuitive use of reflections, translations, and rotations all over the place, for instance in setting up triangle congruence theorems such as SAS.
| cite | improve this answer | |
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Rule #1 sums him up completely. I was aware of Hilbert's axiomatization using second-order logic, whereas Tarski did an axiomatization using first-order logic, but the definition of the real numbers is lacking in Tarski's geometry, although it is complete in the sense of the algebraic numbers. It is the Axiom V of Continuity of Hilbert's that needs the second-order logic which allows the completeness you mention. So with all the Eudoxean proportion and ratio and irrationality going on were the Greeks implicitly using second-order logic all the time, just unaware that they were, or had to? $\endgroup$ – Daniel Buck Aug 23 '16 at 15:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.