Primitive notion

# Primitive notion

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Encyclopedia
In mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

, logic
Logic
In philosophy, Logic is the formal systematic study of the principles of valid inference and correct reasoning. Logic is used in most intellectual activities, but is studied primarily in the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, semantics, and computer science...

, and formal system
Formal system
In formal logic, a formal system consists of a formal language and a set of inference rules, used to derive an expression from one or more other premises that are antecedently supposed or derived . The axioms and rules may be called a deductive apparatus...

s, a primitive notion is an undefined concept. In particular, a primitive notion is not defined in terms of previously defined concepts, but is only motivated informally, usually by an appeal to intuition
Intuition (knowledge)
Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without inference or the use of reason. "The word 'intuition' comes from the Latin word 'intueri', which is often roughly translated as meaning 'to look inside'’ or 'to contemplate'." Intuition provides us with beliefs that we cannot necessarily justify...

and everyday experience. In an axiomatic theory or other formal system
Formal system
In formal logic, a formal system consists of a formal language and a set of inference rules, used to derive an expression from one or more other premises that are antecedently supposed or derived . The axioms and rules may be called a deductive apparatus...

, the role of a primitive notion is analogous to that of axiom
Axiom
In traditional logic, an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proven or demonstrated but considered either to be self-evident or to define and delimit the realm of analysis. In other words, an axiom is a logical statement that is assumed to be true...

. In axiomatic theories, the primitive notions are sometimes said to be "defined" by one or more axioms, but this can be misleading. Formal theories cannot dispense with primitive notions, under pain of infinite regress
Infinite regress
An infinite regress in a series of propositions arises if the truth of proposition P1 requires the support of proposition P2, the truth of proposition P2 requires the support of proposition P3, .....

.

Alfred Tarski
Alfred Tarski
Alfred Tarski was a Polish logician and mathematician. Educated at the University of Warsaw and a member of the Lwow-Warsaw School of Logic and the Warsaw School of Mathematics and philosophy, he emigrated to the USA in 1939, and taught and carried out research in mathematics at the University of...

explained the role of primitive notions as follows:
When we set out to construct a given discipline, we distinguish, first of all, a certain small group of expressions of this discipline that seem to us to be immediately understandable; the expressions in this group we call PRIMITIVE TERMS or UNDEFINED TERMS, and we employ them without explaining their meanings. At the same time we adopt the principle: not to employ any of the other expression of the discipline under consideration, unless its meaning has first been determined with the help of primitive terms and of such expressions of the discipline whose meanings have been explained previously. The sentence which determines the meaning of a term in this way is called a DEFINITION,...

In axiomatic set theory the fundamental concept of set is an example of a primitive notion. As Mary Tiles
Mary Tiles
Mary Tiles is a philosopher and historian of mathematics and science. she is professor and chair in the philosophy department of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.-Life:...

wrote:
[The] 'definition' of 'set' is less a definition than an attempt at explication of something which is being given the status of a primitive, undefined, term.

As evidence, she quotes Felix Hausdorff
Felix Hausdorff
Felix Hausdorff was a Jewish German mathematician who is considered to be one of the founders of modern topology and who contributed significantly to set theory, descriptive set theory, measure theory, function theory, and functional analysis.-Life:Hausdorff studied at the University of Leipzig,...

: "A set is formed by the grouping together of single objects into a whole. A set is a plurality thought of as a unit."

When an axiomatic system
Axiomatic system
In mathematics, an axiomatic system is any set of axioms from which some or all axioms can be used in conjunction to logically derive theorems. A mathematical theory consists of an axiomatic system and all its derived theorems...

begins with its axiom
Axiom
In traditional logic, an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proven or demonstrated but considered either to be self-evident or to define and delimit the realm of analysis. In other words, an axiom is a logical statement that is assumed to be true...

s, the primitive notions may not be explicitly stated. Susan Haak (1978) wrote, "A set of axioms is sometimes said to give an implicit definition of its primitive terms."

Examples. In:
• Naive set theory
Naive set theory
Naive set theory is one of several theories of sets used in the discussion of the foundations of mathematics. The informal content of this naive set theory supports both the aspects of mathematical sets familiar in discrete mathematics , and the everyday usage of set theory concepts in most...

, the empty set
Empty set
In mathematics, and more specifically set theory, the empty set is the unique set having no elements; its size or cardinality is zero. Some axiomatic set theories assure that the empty set exists by including an axiom of empty set; in other theories, its existence can be deduced...

is a primitive notion. (To assert that it exists would be an implicit axiom
Axiom
In traditional logic, an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proven or demonstrated but considered either to be self-evident or to define and delimit the realm of analysis. In other words, an axiom is a logical statement that is assumed to be true...

.)
• Peano arithmetic, the successor function and the number zero are primitive notions.
• Axiomatic systems
Axiomatic system
In mathematics, an axiomatic system is any set of axioms from which some or all axioms can be used in conjunction to logically derive theorems. A mathematical theory consists of an axiomatic system and all its derived theorems...

, the primitive notions will depend upon the set of axioms chosen for the system. This was discussed by Alessandro Padoa
Alessandro Padoa was an Italian mathematician and logician, a contributor to the school of Giuseppe Peano. He is remembered for a method for deciding whether, given some formal theory, a new primitive notion is truly independent of the other primitive notions...

at the International Congress of Mathematicians
International Congress of Mathematicians
The International Congress of Mathematicians is the largest conference for the topic of mathematics. It meets once every four years, hosted by the International Mathematical Union ....

in Paris in 1900.
• Euclidean geometry
Euclidean geometry
Euclidean geometry is a mathematical system attributed to the Alexandrian Greek mathematician Euclid, which he described in his textbook on geometry: the Elements. Euclid's method consists in assuming a small set of intuitively appealing axioms, and deducing many other propositions from these...

, under Hilbert
David Hilbert
David Hilbert was a German mathematician. He is recognized as one of the most influential and universal mathematicians of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Hilbert discovered and developed a broad range of fundamental ideas in many areas, including invariant theory and the axiomatization of...

's axiom system the primitive notions are point, line, plane, congruence, betweeness and incidence.
• Euclidean geometry
Euclidean geometry
Euclidean geometry is a mathematical system attributed to the Alexandrian Greek mathematician Euclid, which he described in his textbook on geometry: the Elements. Euclid's method consists in assuming a small set of intuitively appealing axioms, and deducing many other propositions from these...

, under Peano
Giuseppe Peano
Giuseppe Peano was an Italian mathematician, whose work was of philosophical value. The author of over 200 books and papers, he was a founder of mathematical logic and set theory, to which he contributed much notation. The standard axiomatization of the natural numbers is named the Peano axioms in...

's axiom system the primitive notions are point, segment and motion.
• Philosophy of mathematics
Philosophy of mathematics
The philosophy of mathematics is the branch of philosophy that studies the philosophical assumptions, foundations, and implications of mathematics. The aim of the philosophy of mathematics is to provide an account of the nature and methodology of mathematics and to understand the place of...

, Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

considered the "indefinables of mathematics" to build the case for logicism
Logicism
Logicism is one of the schools of thought in the philosophy of mathematics, putting forth the theory that mathematics is an extension of logic and therefore some or all mathematics is reducible to logic. Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead championed this theory fathered by Richard Dedekind...

in his book The Principles of Mathematics
The Principles of Mathematics
The Principles of Mathematics is a book written by Bertrand Russell in 1903. In it he presented his famous paradox and argued his thesis that mathematics and logic are identical....

(1903).

• Axiomatic set theory
• Foundations of mathematics
Foundations of mathematics
Foundations of mathematics is a term sometimes used for certain fields of mathematics, such as mathematical logic, axiomatic set theory, proof theory, model theory, type theory and recursion theory...

• Mathematical logic
Mathematical logic
Mathematical logic is a subfield of mathematics with close connections to foundations of mathematics, theoretical computer science and philosophical logic. The field includes both the mathematical study of logic and the applications of formal logic to other areas of mathematics...

• Notion (philosophy)
Notion (philosophy)
A notion in philosophy is a reflection in the mind of real objects and phenomena in their essential features and relations. Notions are usually described in terms of scope and content...

• Object theory
Object theory
Object theory is a theory in philosophy and mathematical logic concerning objects and the statements that can be made about objects.- An informal theory :...