Automated Theorem Proving

Prove that for any propositions P and Q:

\[(\neg P \vee Q) \rightarrow (P \rightarrow Q)\]

Easy, right? Just enumerate all possibilities \(P = 0, 1\) and \(Q = 0, 1\), and check we always get \(1\).

easy = all (== 1) [max (1 - p) q --> (p --> q) | p <- [0, 1], q <- [0, 1]]

0 --> 0 = 1
0 --> 1 = 1
1 --> 0 = 0
1 --> 1 = 1

Perhaps the toughest part is remembering the truth table for \((\rightarrow)\). It’s odd that \(0 \rightarrow 1\) holds, that is, "false implies true". But it’s odder still that we say "implies" for this symbol. Should we be saying things like: "a hydrogen atom contains two protons implies Beethoven wrote nine symphonies"?

It sounds illogical because in everyday use, the word "implies" implies causation. How can a proposition imply an unrelated proposition? Yet banishing the word "implies" is out of the question, because logic ought to be able to deal with causality.

We patch this discrepancy by replacing 0 and 1 with mathematical objects called proofs. We represent a proof with an abstract syntax tree (that turns out be a good old lambda term). Then a proof of \(P \rightarrow Q\) is a syntax tree representing a function that maps a proof of \(P\) to a proof of \(Q\). The word "implies" has regained its dignity: we can only say "\(P\) implies \(Q\)" if we show how evidence of \(P\) leads to evidence of \(Q\).

Instead of truth tables, we build proofs (syntax trees) from other proofs. A proof of the conjunction \(P \wedge Q\) is a syntax tree representing the pair (p, q) where p is a proof of \(P\) and q is a proof of \(Q\). A proof of the disjunction \(P \vee Q\) is either the syntax tree Left p where p is a proof of \(P\) or Right q where q is a proof of \(Q\).

As for negation, we define a proposition \(\bot\) and stipulate that a proof of \(\bot\) immediately yields a proof of any arbitrary proposition; the principle of explosion; ex falso quodlibet. We define \(\neg P\) to be \(P \rightarrow \bot\).

Apart from fixing "implies", our logic is also intuitionistic, which just means we’ve added accuracy to classical logic. Roughly speaking, all the theorems are the same except that rather than prove \(\exists x P(x)\), we sometimes prove \(\neg \forall x \neg P(x)\), and similarly, rather than prove \(A \vee B\) we sometimes prove \(\neg(\neg A \wedge \neg B)\).

Classical logic equates these formulas, while intuitionistic logic keeps them apart to gain one extra bit of information. This bit signals whether the proof is constructive.

For example, in intuitionistic logic, the law of the excluded middle (LEM) when written as \(A \vee \neg A\) has no proof, but the classically equivalent \(\neg (A \wedge \neg A)\) does. A proof of the former would be a decision procedure, that is, it would describe an algorithm to construct a proof of \(A\) or a proof of \(\neg A\) from any given \(A\); a tall order. The latter merely states it is impossible to have both a proof of \(A\) and a proof of \(\neg A\).

It’s fun to split philosophical hairs, but we really went to all this trouble for practical reasons. If we can automatically generate a constructive proof of a given proposition, then we can automatically generate the source code of a function of a given type, a fact known as the Curry-Howard correspondence.

Too much too early

We restrict ourselves to propositional logic; no predicates nor quantifiers. We know classical logic has a sound and complete decision procedure under these conditions based on truth tables. Can we adapt it for intuitionistic logic?

Alas, our simple strategy is wildly inappropriate. Recall we tried two different values for each atomic proposition. Unfortunately, there are infinitely many abstract syntax trees, and even if we could magically try each one, what good would it do? Suppose we wish to prove \(P \rightarrow P\). Our goal is to find a function that takes a proof of \(P\) and returns a proof of \(P\). The identity function clearly does the job, but how would enumerating all possible proofs of \(P\) lead to it?

We could try to enumerate all syntax trees, infer the type of each tree as we go, and see if it happens to be the proposition we’re trying to prove. However, besides being grossly inefficient, this procedure fails to terminate when no proof exists.

Chapter 4 of Frank Pfenning’s notes describes a strategy to find proofs in first-order logic based on sequents. We take the parts relevant to propositional logic.

A sequent consists of:

  • a list of antecedent propositions \(A_1, ..., A_n\)

  • a succedent proposition \(B\)

and is written:

\[A_1, ..., A_n \Rightarrow B\]

This sequent means: "given proofs of the antecedent propositions \(A_1, ..., A_n\), we can produce a proof of \(B\)".

Given a proposition \(B\) to prove, we start with a sequent meaning we can prove \(B\) with no assumptions:

\[\Rightarrow B\]

Then we apply one of the rules described below to transform it into one or more sequents that logically lead to this sequent.

We recursively apply rules on these new sequents until we reach a self-evident sequent. There are two kinds of such sequents. Either we have an initial sequent:

\[..., P, ... \Rightarrow P\]

which means we can produce a proof of \(P\) if given a proof of \(P\) (and possibly other proofs), or we have a sequent with \(\bot\) as an antecedent:

\[..., \bot, ... \Rightarrow P\]

which is an incarnation of ex falso quodlibet.

A rule preserving completeness is invertible; such a rule never changes a viable sequent into sequents that eventually get stuck. Otherwise the rule is non-invertible.

The rules lead to the following algorithm. We partition the antecedent propositions into two lists: the passive list and the active list. Every antecedent proposition starts off in the active list. Then:

  1. Apply as many invertible rules as possible to the succedent. Pfenning calls these cases right asynchronous.

  2. Until the active list is empty, apply as many invertible rules as possible to the head of the list, then move the head to the passive list. Pfenning calls these cases left asynchronous.

  3. The active list is empty and we must choose a non-invertible rule. We branch on each such rule. We can apply standard strategies such as breadth-first search, depth-first search, or iterative deepening. Pfenning calls these cases synchronous.

We’ve swept a potential problem under the rug. How can we avoid going around in circles as we apply these rules? It turns out, with one exception, all the rules are one-way. They each replace a sequent with simpler sequents.

The problematic exception crops up in the last step. If we branch on an implication \(P \rightarrow Q\) in the passive list, then a new antecedent is added while no existing ones are removed, which means we may later choose to branch on the same implication again.

If a proposition has a proof, then a breadth-first search will eventually find it, but in general, this algorithm might never terminate on a proposition with no proof.

For now, we sacrifice completeness to address this, and remove an implication antecedent when exploring it. This guarantees termination, but prevents us from finding proofs of certain theorems such as \(\neg \neg (A \vee \neg A)\). We fix this later.

Let’s walk through a proof of our first example.

\[\Rightarrow ((P \rightarrow\bot) \vee Q) \rightarrow (P \rightarrow Q)\]

The succedent is an implication, so the corresponding rule yields:

\[(P\rightarrow\bot) \vee Q \Rightarrow P \rightarrow Q\]

The succedent is an implication again, so we get:

\[(P\rightarrow\bot) \vee Q, P \Rightarrow Q\]

The antecedent disjunction leads to the two sequents:

\[P \rightarrow \bot , P \Rightarrow Q\]
\[Q, P \Rightarrow Q\]

The second sequent is an initial sequent, while the only way to progress from the first sequent is to apply a non-invertible rule to the antecedent implication, yielding two sequents:

\[\bot , P \Rightarrow Q\]
\[P \Rightarrow P\]

The first sequent has a \(\bot\) antecedent, while the second is initial. We have successfully found a proof.

Below, the incompleteOracle function determines if a proof exists via a depth-first search. Hopefully our code alone is enough to explain the rules. For example, the first rule states if the sequent has the form:

\[A_1, ..., A_n \Rightarrow P \wedge Q\]

then we recurse on:

\[A_1, ..., A_n \Rightarrow P\]


\[A_1, ..., A_n \Rightarrow Q\]

A logician might summarize this as:

\[\frac{\Gamma \Rightarrow P \quad \Gamma \Rightarrow Q} { \Gamma \Rightarrow P \wedge Q }\]

where \(\Gamma\) is a list of antecedent propositions. Roughly speaking, this notation says that to prove the thing below the horizontal line, we must prove the things above the line.

Since we classify the antecedents as passive or active, we ought to be more pedantic and split \(\Gamma\) into two lists; see Pfenning for details.

▶ Toggle boilerplate

data Prop = Var String
  | Prop :& Prop
  | Prop :| Prop
  | Prop :-> Prop
  | Falso deriving (Show, Eq)

incompleteOracle :: Prop -> Bool
incompleteOracle = rAsyn [] [] where
  rAsyn pas act rhs = case rhs of
    a :& b -> rAsyn pas act a && rAsyn pas act b
    a :-> b -> rAsyn pas (a:act) b
    _ -> lAsyn pas act rhs

  lAsyn pas (x:xs) rhs = case x of
    Falso -> True
    a :& b -> lAsyn pas (a:b:xs) rhs
    a :| b -> lAsyn pas (a:xs) rhs && lAsyn pas (b:xs) rhs
    _ -> lAsyn (x:pas) xs rhs

  lAsyn pas [] rhs = elem rhs pas || any implyCases pas || orCases
    orCases = case rhs of
      a :| b -> rAsyn pas [] a || rAsyn pas [] b
      _ -> False
    implyCases p = case p of
      a :-> b -> lAsyn pas' [b] rhs && rAsyn pas' [] a
        where pas' = delete p pas
      _ -> False

We write a parser for propositions so we can easily test our code. We use Haskell notation:

  • The conjunction of p and q is written (p, q).

  • The disjunction of p and q is written Either p q.

  • Implication is written (->) and associates right.

  • The proposition \(\bot\) is written Void (from the Data.Void package).

propo :: Parser Prop
propo = space *> aps <* eof where
  aps = foldr1 (:->) <$> sepBy1 arg (spstr "->")
  arg = Var <$> sp ((:) <$> lowerChar <*> many alphaNumChar)
    <|> between (spch '(') (spch ')') prodOrProp
    <|> const Falso <$> spstr "Void"
    <|> spstr "Either" *> ((:|) <$> arg <*> arg)
  prodOrProp = aps <**> (option id $ spch ',' *> (flip (:&) <$> aps))
  sp = (<* space)
  spch = sp . char
  spstr = sp . string

Evaluating the following confirms we can find a proof of our first example:

incompleteOracle <$> parse propo "" "Either (p -> Void) q -> p -> q"

Proof by construction

Our program has discovered a truly remarkable proof of our theorem, but the Boolean return value is too small to contain it.

We remedy this by building lambda terms instead of just indicating whether it’s possible to do so. This requires assigning names to various propositions when we first encounter them; we pass around an integer to help generate unique names.

We associate each proposition in the active and passive lists with a lambda term representing its proof.

We take this opportunity to properly fix our problematic implication rule:

\[\frac {A \rightarrow B,\Gamma\Rightarrow A \quad B,\Gamma\Rightarrow G } {A \rightarrow B,\Gamma\Rightarrow G}\]

It turns out our prover is sound and complete if we replace it with these 4 rules:

\[\frac {B,A,\Gamma\Rightarrow G \quad \text{atomic }A } {A \rightarrow B,A,\Gamma\Rightarrow G}\]
\[\frac {A\rightarrow (B\rightarrow C),\Gamma\Rightarrow G} {(A\wedge B)\rightarrow C,\Gamma\Rightarrow G}\]
\[\frac {A\rightarrow C, B\rightarrow C,\Gamma\Rightarrow G} {(A\vee B)\rightarrow C,\Gamma\Rightarrow G}\]
\[\frac {B\rightarrow C,\Gamma\Rightarrow A\rightarrow B \quad C,\Gamma\Rightarrow G} {(A\rightarrow B)\rightarrow C,\Gamma\Rightarrow G}\]

The prove function below performs a depth-first search to find programs of a given type.

data Proof = V String | Lam String Proof | Proof :@ Proof

prove :: Prop -> [Proof]
prove prop = snd <$> rAsyn 0 [] [] prop where
  rAsyn n pas act prop = case prop of
    a :-> b -> do
      let s = 'a':show n
      second (Lam s) <$> rAsyn (n + 1) pas ((V s, a):act) b
    a :& b -> do
      (n1, f) <- rAsyn n pas act a
      (n2, s) <- rAsyn n1 pas act b
      pure (n2, V "," :@ f :@ s)
    _ -> lAsyn n pas act prop

The first 3 new implication rules are invertible. The first of them triggers on two antecedents; if the current active antecedent matches one of the patterns, then we search for suitable companions matching the other pattern in the passive list. If there are any, we proceed with the first matching pair we find.

We also drop antecedents of the form \(X \rightarrow X\), as these are superfluous.

  lAsyn n pas (pp@(prf, prop):ps) rhs = case prop of
    a :-> b | a == b -> lAsyn n pas ps rhs
    a@(Var _) :-> b | Just (prfA, _) <- find (\(_, a') -> a' == a) pas ->
      lAsyn n pas ((prf :@ prfA, b):ps) rhs
    a@(Var _) -> lAsyn n (pp:pas') (take 1 act' <> ps) rhs
      (pas', act') = foldl' partitionMatch ([], []) pas
      partitionMatch (ps, as) x
        | (prfImp, a'@(Var _) :-> b) <- x, a == a' = (ps, (prfImp :@ prf, b):as)
        | otherwise = (x:ps, as)
    (a :& b) :-> c -> lAsyn n pas
      ((V "curry" :@ prf, a :-> (b :-> c)):ps) rhs
    (a :| b) :-> c -> lAsyn n pas
      ((V "." :@ prf :@ V "Left", a :-> c)
      :(V "." :@ prf :@ V "Right", b :-> c):ps) rhs

The other invertible rules are straightforward:

    Falso  -> pure (n, V "absurd" :@ prf)
    a :& b -> lAsyn n pas ((V "fst" :@ prf, a):(V "snd" :@ prf, b):ps) rhs
    a :| b -> do
      let l = 'a':show n
      (n1, lp) <- lAsyn (n + 1) pas ((V l, a):ps) rhs
      let r = 'a':show n1
      (n2, rp) <- lAsyn (n1 + 1) pas ((V r, b):ps) rhs
      pure (n2, V "either" :@ Lam l lp :@ Lam r rp :@ prf)
    _ -> lAsyn n (pp:pas) ps rhs

It remains to describe the non-invertible rules:

  lAsyn n pas [] rhs = lguesses <> rguesses where
    lguesses = pas >>= \l -> lSyn n (filter (\p -> snd p /= snd l) pas) l rhs
    rguesses = case rhs of
      _ :| _ -> rSyn n pas rhs
      _ -> []
  rSyn n pas rhs = case rhs of
    a :| b -> as <> bs where
      as = second (V "Left" :@) <$> rSyn n pas a
      bs = second (V "Right" :@) <$> rSyn n pas b
    _ -> rAsyn n pas [] rhs

We’ve saved the the non-invertible implication rule for last. It relies on the theorem:

\[\begin{align} ((A \rightarrow B) \rightarrow C) \rightarrow (A \rightarrow B) \\ \iff (B \rightarrow C) \rightarrow (A \rightarrow B) \end{align}\]

I had trouble finding the program corresponding to this rule, so I first coded our incomplete search from above:

    a :-> b -> do
      let v = 'a':show n
      (n1, fArg) <- lAsyn (n + 1) pas [(prf :@ V v, b)] rhs
      (n2, arg) <- rSyn n1 pas a
      pure (n2, sub v arg fArg)

I ran it on one direction of the theorem:

prove <$> parse propo ""
  "((b -> c) -> (a -> b)) -> ((a -> b) -> c) -> (a -> b))"

which found:

Right [\a0 -> \a1 -> \a2 -> ((a0 \a5 -> (a1 \a7 -> a5)) a2)]

This lambda term is equivalent to:

\a0 -> \a1 -> a0 (a1 . const)

which teaches us how to generate the code for our fiddly implication rule:

  lSyn n pas (prf, l) rhs = if l == rhs then pure (n, prf) else case l of
    (a :-> b) :-> c -> do
      let v = 'a':show n
      (n1, fArg) <- lAsyn (n + 1) pas [(prf :@ V v, c)] rhs
      let w = 'a':show n1
      (n2, premiss1) <- rAsyn (n1 + 1) pas [(V w, b :-> c)] (a :-> b)
      let arg = sub w (V "." :@ prf :@ V "const") premiss1
      pure (n2, sub v arg fArg)
    _ -> []

sub v arg f = case f of
  V s | v == s -> arg
  Lam s t -> Lam s $ rec t
  x :@ y -> rec x :@ rec y
  _ -> f
  where rec = sub v arg

We prettyprint the proofs so they look like Haskell programs.

instance Show Proof where
  show prf = case prf of
    V s             -> s
    V "." :@ x :@ y -> "(" <> show x <> " . " <> show y <> ")"
    V "," :@ x :@ y -> "(" <> show x <> ", " <> show y <> ")"
    x@(Lam _ _) :@ y -> "((" <> show x <> ")" <> show y <> ")"
    x :@ y          -> "(" <> show x <> " " <> show y <> ")"
    Lam s t         -> "\\" <> s <> " -> " <> show t


prove <$> parse propo "" "Either (p -> Void) q -> p -> q"

gives the proof:

\a0 -> \a1 -> (((either \a2 -> (absurd (a2 a1))) \a3 -> a3) a0)

▶ Toggle UI code


See Dyckhoff, Contraction-Free Sequent Calculi for Intuitionistic Logic, for why we replace the non-terminating rule with 4 rules. Dyckhoff attributes the underlying method to Vorobev, and mentions it’s been rediscovered a few times.

Synquid uses refinement types to automatically write programs that sort, or transform a Boolean formula to negation normal form (NNF). See also the other amazing provers on that website, as well as Nadia Polikarpova's talk.

Idris 2 uses dependent types and linear types to discover a function for performing matrix transposition.

Sandy Maguire uses GHC’s type holes to think less when programming. But on his jonk example, the computer can in fact take over completely. We type in:

(a -> b) -> ((a -> i) -> i) -> ((b -> i) -> i)

and our prover finds:

\a0 -> \a1 -> \a2 -> (a1 \a5 -> (a2 (a0 a5)))

The Djinn tool is similar to what we built, though has considerably more features.

Ben Lynn 💡