The following statement of Peano's axioms appears in Fundamentals of Mathematics, Volume 1 Foundations of Mathematics: The Real Number System and Algebra; Edited by H. Behnke, F. Bachmann, K. Fladt, W. Suess and H. Kunle

  • I. $1$ is a number.
  • II. To every number $a$ there corresponds a unique number $a^{\prime},$ called its successor.
  • III. If $a^{\prime}=b^{\prime},$ then $a=b.$
  • IV. $a^{\prime}\ne1$ for every number $a.$

  • V. Let $A\left(x\right)$ be a proposition containing the variable $x.$ If $A\left(1\right)$ holds and if $A\left(n^{\prime}\right)$ follows from $A\left(n\right)$ for every number $n,$ then $A\left(x\right)$ holds for every number $x.$

Typically an inductive proof of some proposition $P$ about the natural numbers proceeds as follows: show $P\left(1\right)$; show $P\left(n\right)\implies{P\left(n^\prime\right)}.$

I will say that a number succeeds $1$ if and only if it is the successor of $1$ or it is the successor of a number which succeeds $1$. Given the proposition

$$P\left(x\right):=\text{x does not succeed 1},$$

we have $P\left(1\right)$ is true. If we assume $P\left(n\right)$, then $P\left(n^\prime\right)$ follows. It is easy to show, however, that $P$ does not satisfy Peano's fifth axiom because $P\left(1^\prime\right)$ is not true.

What is it about this particular proposition which requires us to test the special case of $P\left(1^\prime\right)$?

Put differently, given the proposition

$$Q\left(x\right):=x=1\lor\text{x succeeds 1},$$

is it sufficient to show $Q\left(1\right)$ and $Q\left(n\right)\implies{Q\left(n^\prime\right)}$?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ How does $P(n) \implies P(n')$? $\endgroup$ – gt6989b Apr 4 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ Assume $n$ does not succeed $1$. Then $n^\prime$ does not succeed $1$. $\endgroup$ – Steven Thomas Hatton Apr 4 at 4:14
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @StevenHatton Your comment just restates what gt6989b asked. It doesn't prove it in any way. $1$ doesn't succeed $1$ but $1'$ does, so the implication is clearly false. $\endgroup$ – Derek Elkins Apr 4 at 5:50

Your definition of "succeeds" says (among other things)

if $n$ succeeds $1$ then $n'$ succeeds $1$.

This is not the same as your subsequent claim

if $n$ does not succeed $1$ then $n'$ does not succeed $1$.

You have made the converse error.

  • $\begingroup$ That was easily corrected by specifying $n^\prime$ succeeds 1 if and only if $n$ succeeds 1. $\endgroup$ – Steven Thomas Hatton Apr 4 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ Now you are really mixing up the logic. If that is supposed to be true for all $n$, then $1'$ does not succeed $1$ (because $1$ does not succeed $1$). If that's not what you meant, then please be more careful with your definition: $x$ succeeds $1$ means...? $\endgroup$ – David Apr 4 at 4:51
  • $\begingroup$ The modified proposition is: a number succeeds $1$ if and only if it is the successor of $1$ or it is the successor of a number which succeeds $1$. $\endgroup$ – Steven Thomas Hatton Apr 4 at 4:56
  • $\begingroup$ OK. So $P(n)$ means: $n\ne1'$ and for all $m$, either $n\ne m'$ or $P(m)$. If you still claim that this implies $P(n')$, please provide a careful and detailed proof. $\endgroup$ – David Apr 4 at 4:58
  • $\begingroup$ In my original post I prove $\forall_{x}P\left(x\right)$ is not true. My question is why did I need to test the unusual case of $P\left(1^\prime\right)$? $\endgroup$ – Steven Thomas Hatton Apr 4 at 5:03

Your induction step fails, because "$n'$ is not the successor of $1$" cannot be derived from $P(n)$. As is evidenced by $1'$.

  • $\begingroup$ But the question is: what is it about this situation that requires testing the case of $1^\prime$? Usually we just test $n=1$ and the generic $n\mapsto n^\prime$. $\endgroup$ – Steven Thomas Hatton Apr 4 at 6:12
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @StevenHatton There is nothing special about this situation at all. You do not have the implication $P(n)\implies P(n')$. That's the flaw, nothing else. It's just that we can most easily demonstrate the flaw by pointing out the case where it is relevant. $\endgroup$ – Arthur Apr 4 at 6:14

Forget about what our propositions are and consider the formulae

$$P\left(x\right):=x=1\lor\lnot S\left(x\right),$$

$$S\left(x\right)\iff S\left(x^{\prime}\right)\text{ for } x\ne 1.$$

The latter is equivalent to

$$\lnot{S}\left(x\right)\iff \lnot{S}\left(x^{\prime}\right)\text{ for } x\ne 1.$$

Now assume


This implies $\lnot{S}\left(n^\prime\right),$ which implies $P\left(n^\prime\right).$ So the induction argument $n\ne1 \land P\left(n\right)\implies P\left(n^\prime\right)$ is valid for this situation. And we clearly have $P\left(1\right)$.

The reason this is not a valid inductive proof is that there is a disjunction in $P$. The rule for $P\left(1\right)\mapsto P\left(1^\prime\right)$ is not the same as that for $P\left(n\right)\mapsto P\left(n^\prime\right)$. In a sense we have chosen the wrong base case. At a minimum we must explicitly test the first case not "masked" by $x=1$. Using the following meaning of $S$, upon testing that case we find the proof fails.

The case $x=1$ could have been omitted by the proposition the successor of $x$ does not succeed $1$. Which fails immediately.

What about the case of

$$Q\left(x\right):=x=1\lor S\left(x\right)?$$

Lets express the proposition $x$ succeeds $1$ as

$$S\left(x\right):=x=1^{\prime}\lor\left(\exists_{y}x=y^{\prime}\land S\left(y\right)\right).$$

By the above reasoning we have to explicitly test the cases $1, 1^\prime, 1^{\prime\prime}.$

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ For the inductive case, we need to prove $\forall n.P(n)\Rightarrow P(n')$. You can't add extra constraints on $n$, like $n\neq 1$. If you did want to do that, you'd have to change $P$ to $R(n)\equiv n\neq 1\land P(n)$, but then to apply the rule of induction you need to consider the base case $R(1)$, not $P(1)$, which clearly doesn't hold. since $1\neq 1$ is false. If you want to do an induction that only applies to some suffix of the natural numbers, you can simply do $Q(n)\equiv n < k\lor P(n)$ which you can use to ultimately prove $\forall n\geq k.P(n)$. $\endgroup$ – Derek Elkins Apr 4 at 18:38

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