# Why is predicate "all" as in all(SET) true if the SET is empty?

Can anyone explain why the predicate all is true for an empty set? If the set is empty, there are no elements in it, so there is not really any elements to apply the predicate on? So it feels to me it should be false rather than true.

• Roughly: if $\forall x \in S (R(x))$ is false, then there must be $x \in S$ such that $R(x)$ is false. Since there is no such $x$ for empty $S$, the statement $\forall x \in S (R(x))$ is true. Sep 25, 2012 at 21:23
• Okay... but you can also argue the other way around: if ∀x∈S(R(x)) is true, then all x∈S must have R(x) true. Since there is no such x for empty set S, the statement ∀x∈S(R(x)) is false. ... What happened? Sep 25, 2012 at 21:27
• The statement $\forall x \in S (R(x))$ does not imply that there is an $x$ for which $R(x)$ holds. It just says that whenever you give me an $x$ from $S$, I can demonstrate that $R(x)$ holds. In the end, it is just a matter of convention. However presuming vacuous universal quantification to be true results in smoother theory. I am just explaining the logic behind it. Sep 25, 2012 at 21:40
• I see. I don't think I understand but I'll nod. Sep 25, 2012 at 21:49
• en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuous_truth Jan 3, 2013 at 7:32

## 6 Answers

It hinges on the Law of the Excluded Middle. The claim itself is either TRUE or FALSE, one way or the other, not both, not neither.

Pretend that I am asserting "For every $x\in S$, property $P(x)$ holds." How could you declare me to be a liar? You would have to produce an element of the set ($S=\varnothing$, in this case) that does not have the property $P(x)$. Only then can you declare my assertion FALSE. Since you cannot do that here, my assertion is TRUE. I essentially spoke the truth by NOT speaking a lie.

• Okay that's pretty interesting argument. But why doesn't it work the other way around? -- Pretend that I'm asserting "There exists an x∈S such that P(x) doesn't hold." How could you declare me to be a liar? You would have to produce an element of the set (S=∅, in this case) that does have the property P(x). Since S is the empty set, you can't convince me that there is an x such that P(x) holds, therefore my assertion is true. ... I'm easily getting lost in logic. Sep 25, 2012 at 21:48
• If you're asserting "there exists such-and-such" and I declare you to be a liar, it is your job to show me an actual something and defend the proposition that this particular something is a such-and-such. Someone claiming $\exists$ is a liar by default (just as someone who claims $\lor$ is), whereas someone claiming $\forall$ is right unless his opponent can find a counterexample (just as someone who claims $\land$ can relax until his opponent names one of the conjuncts that he claims is false). Sep 25, 2012 at 21:53
• @HenningMakholm Suppose I claim that there is a well-ordering of the reals, and you declare me be to a liar ... Sep 25, 2012 at 22:03
• @PeterSmith: Then you make a call upon your good friend Axiom of Choice, and he goes out into his back room and does something magical whereupon he returns with a something that you then present to me. I have no idea how he does it. Sep 25, 2012 at 22:12
• @PeterSmith: Actually I think that the "declare me to be a liar" metaphor in the answer above is not meant to be about provability but about semantic truth relative to a particular model that we pretend to have physically available. Then something either exists in the model or it doesn't and somebody who claims a right based on its existence is allowed to just point at it. There may remain disagreement about whether the thing you point at actually has the property you promised, but physically locating the thing is not supposed to be a problem. (...) Sep 25, 2012 at 22:34

"All of my children are rock stars."

"If we go through the list of my children, one at a time, you will never find one that is not a rock star."

Do you want the above two sentences to mean the same thing?

Also, do you want

"Not all of my children are rock stars."

to mean the same as

"At least one of my children is not a rockstar"?

Because in the situation that I have no children, the last statement is false, so we would want "all of my children are rock stars" to be true to preserve dichotomy.

• Congratulations on your children's success! Sep 25, 2012 at 22:11
• Thank you, they have all topped the charts and become pop icons! All of them. Sep 26, 2012 at 2:23
• Since I wrote this, things have changed. None of my children are rock stars, but they might be some day. Feb 26, 2018 at 15:13
• @user599310 Empty sums, empty products, empty conjunctions. All the same. Let me start with an empty sum. People often think of $\sum_{i=1}^n{x_i}$ as $x_1+\cdots+x_n$. Imho this is flawed for lacking symmetry. It has $n$ operands but only $n-1$ operators. I suggest thinking of it as "add $x_1$, add $x_2$, ..., add $x_n$. So it's the operator: ${}+x_1+x_2+\cdots+x_n$. Reach a value (instead of an operator) by applying it to $0$: $0+x_1+x_2+\cdots+x_n$. So when the summation is empty, you just have $0$. Continued below. Nov 1, 2020 at 19:51
• An empty conjunction is the same, with "true" as the base instead of $0$, since "true" is the identity operand for conjunction. Assuming for now $X$ has a finite $n$ elements, "$\forall x\in X, P(x)$" is the same as $\bigwedge_{i=1}^nP(x_i)$, which under what I outline above, is nicely interpreted as $\text{true}\wedge P(x_1)\wedge P(x_2)\wedge\cdots\wedge P(x_n)"$. And if $n=0$, that's just "true". Nov 1, 2020 at 19:54

It could be taken the other way, but it's simpler this way.

Say we believe that all rubies are red, and we consider some some collection of rubies, called $R$; say $R$ is all my rubies.

We would like to conclude that all my rubies are red. This seems very reasonable, since all rubies are red. But with your idea, this conclusion might be false! At best we can say that all my rubies are red, if I have any rubies.

This qualification doesn't add anything to the analysis. It doesn't illuminate any subtle point. It just complicates the discussion with an uninteresting special case.

Since the purpose of formal logic is to model plausible reasoning as closely and as simply as possible, we agree to the convention that "all my rubies are red" is deemed to be true even when I have no rubies, so that we don't have to qualify a lot of claims with "… if there are any such rubies".

• Aren't all predicates true for an empty set, so "all rubies are green" also returns true? It's a vacuous truth. Knowing that, your argument doesn't make much sense. Oct 31, 2023 at 5:17

Another approach: the 'vacuous truth' for $\forall$ is roughly the logical equivalent of an empty product being defined as 1 or an empty sum being defined as 0. Just as we want $\sum_{i=1}^{n+1} a_i = a_{n+1} + \sum_{i=1}^{n} a_i$ (and want this to hold in every case, even the 'base case' where $n=0$) and want $\prod_{i=1}^{n+1} a_i = a_{n+1}\cdot \prod_{i=1}^{n} a_i$, so too we want $\forall x\in (S\cup \{z\})\ P(x) \Longleftrightarrow \bigl(\ (\forall x\in S\ P(x))\ \wedge P(z)\bigr)$ to hold even in the 'base case' where $S$ is empty. You should be able to convince yourself (through some relatively straightforward logical manipulation) that this is requires defining $\forall x\in\emptyset \ P(x)$ to be true for all predicates $P()$.

It kind of makes sense. If I understand correctly, I think you want to prove:

$\forall x (x\in \phi \rightarrow Q)$

where:

$\forall x (x\notin \phi)$

Q is any proposition whatsoever.

Proof: Suppose $y\in \phi$. We want to prove that $Q$ is true for any proposition $Q$ whatsoever. Suppose to the contrary that $Q$ is false.

Applying the definition of $\phi$ to $y$, we obtain the contradiction $y\notin \phi$. Therefore, by contradiction, $Q$ must be true. We have:

$y\in \phi \rightarrow Q$

Generalizing, we obtain, as required:

$\forall x (x\in \phi \rightarrow Q)$

An extension of the comment to bwsullivan's answer:

Suppose for all elements in a set P(x) holds and P(x) doesn't hold, i.e.

$\forall x \in A: P(x) \land \forall x \in A: \neg P(x)$

Suppose $y \in A$

then $P(y)\land \neg P(y)$

a contradiction.

So $\forall y: \neg y \in A$

I.e. $A = \emptyset$

Now if you made $\forall x \in A: P(x)$ or $\forall x \in A: \neg P(x)$ not true for the empty set, you couldn't conclude this.