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Contraposition

For contraposition in the eld of traditional logic, see


Contraposition (traditional logic). For contraposition in
the eld of symbolic logic, see Transposition (logic).

In logic, contraposition is an inference that says that a


conditional statement is logically equivalent to its con-
trapositive. The contrapositive of the statement has its
B
antecedent and consequent inverted and ipped: the con-
trapositive of P Q is thus Q P . For instance,
the proposition "All bats are mammals" can be restated
as the conditional "If something is a bat, then it is a mam-
mal". Now, the law says that statement is identical to the
A
contrapositive "If something is not a mammal, then it is
not a bat.
The contrapositive can be compared with three other re-
lationships between conditional statements:

Inversion (the inverse), P Q


"If something is not a bat, then it is not a mammal.
Unlike the contrapositive, the inverses truth value
is not at all dependent on whether or not the original
proposition was true, as evidenced here. The A B
inverse here is clearly not true.
It is also clear that anything that is not within B (the blue
Conversion (the converse), Q P region) cannot be within A, either. This statement,
"If something is a mammal, then it is a bat. The
converse is actually the contrapositive of the
inverse and so always has the same truth value as
B A
the inverse, which is not necessarily the same as
that of the original proposition.
is the contrapositive. Therefore, we can say that
Negation, (P Q)
"There exists a bat that is not a mammal. " If the
negation is true, the original proposition (and by (A B) (B A)
extension the contrapositive) is false. Here, of
course, the negation is false. Practically speaking, this may make life much easier
when trying to prove something. For example, if we want
to prove that every girl in the United States (A) has brown
Note that if P Q is true and we are given that Q is
hair (B), we can try to directly prove A B by checking
false, Q , it can logically be concluded that P must be
all girls in the United States to see if they all have brown
false, P . This is often called the law of contrapositive,
hair. Alternatively, we can try to prove B A by
or the modus tollens rule of inference.
checking all girls without brown hair to see if they are all
outside the US. This means that if we nd at least one girl
without brown hair within the US, we will have disproved
1 Intuitive explanation B A , and equivalently A B .
To conclude, for any statement where A implies B, then
Consider the Euler diagram shown. According to this di- not B always implies not A. Proving or disproving either
agram, if something is in A, it must be in B as well. So one of these statements automatically proves or disproves
we can interpret all of A is in B as: the other. They are fully equivalent.

1
2 5 MORE RIGOROUS PROOF OF THE EQUIVALENCE OF CONTRAPOSITIVES

2 Formal denition not be true by contradiction. For, if A were true, then B


would have to also be true (given). However, it is given
A proposition Q is implicated by a proposition P when that B is not true, so we have a contradiction. Therefore,
the following relationship holds: A is not true (assuming that we are dealing with concrete
statements that are either true or not true):

(P Q)
(A B) (B A)
This states that, if P, then Q", or, if Socrates is a man,
then Socrates is human. In a conditional such as this, P is We can apply the same process the other way round:
the antecedent, and Q is the consequent. One statement is
the contrapositive of the other only when its antecedent
is the negated consequent of the other, and vice versa. (B A) A
The contrapositive of the example is
We also know that B is either true or not true. If B is
not true, then A is also not true. However, it is given that
A is true; so, the assumption that B is not true leads to
(Q P )
contradiction and must be false. Therefore, B must be
That is, If not-Q, then not-P", or, more clearly, If Q is true:
not the case, then P is not the case. Using our example,
this is rendered If Socrates is not human, then Socrates
is not a man. This statement is said to be contraposed (B A) (A B)
to the original and is logically equivalent to it. Due to
their logical equivalence, stating one eectively states the Combining the two proved statements makes them logi-
other; when one is true, the other is also true. Likewise cally equivalent:
with falsity.
Strictly speaking, a contraposition can only exist in two
(A B) (B A)
simple conditionals. However, a contraposition may also
exist in two complex conditionals, if they are similar.
Thus, x(P x Qx) , or All Ps are Qs, is contraposed
to x(Qx P x) , or All non-Qs are non-Ps. 5 More rigorous proof of the equiv-
alence of contrapositives
3 Simple proof by denition of a Logical equivalence between two propositions means that
conditional they are true together or false together. To prove that
contrapositives are logically equivalent, we need to un-
derstand when material implication is true or false.
In rst-order logic, the conditional is dened as:

(P Q)
A B A B
This is only false when P is true and Q is false. Therefore,
We have:
we can reduce this proposition to the statement False
when P and not-Q" (i.e. True when it is not the case
that P and not-Q"):
A B B A
B A
(P Q)
4 Simple proof by contradiction The elements of a conjunction can be reversed with no
eect (by commutativity):
Let:

(Q P )
(A B) B
We dene R as equal to " Q ", and S as equal to P
It is given that, if A is true, then B is true, and it is also (from this, S is equal to P , which is equal to just P
given that B is not true. We can then show that A must ):
6.2 Truth 3

The converse is "If a polygon has four sides, then


it is a quadrilateral." Again, in this case, unlike the
(R S) last example, the converse of the argument is true.

This reads It is not the case that (R is true and S is false)", The negation is "There is at least one quadrilat-
which is the denition of a material conditional. We can eral that does not have four sides." This statement
then make this substitution: is clearly false.

Since the statement and the converse are both true, it is


(R S) called a biconditional, and can be expressed as "A poly-
gon is a quadrilateral if, and only if, it has four sides."
When we swap our denitions of R and S, we arrive at the
(The phrase if and only if is sometimes abbreviated i.)
following:
That is, having four sides is both necessary to be a quadri-
lateral, and alone sucient to deem it a quadrilateral.

(Q P )
6.2 Truth
6 Comparisons If a statement is true, then its contrapositive is true
(and vice versa).
6.1 Examples
If a statement is false, then its contrapositive is false
(and vice versa).
Take the statement "All red objects have color." This can
be equivalently expressed as "If an object is red, then it
If a statements inverse is true, then its converse is
has color."
true (and vice versa).

The contrapositive is "If an object does not have If a statements inverse is false, then its converse is
color, then it is not red." This follows logically from false (and vice versa).
our initial statement and, like it, it is evidently true.
If a statements negation is false, then the statement
The inverse is "If an object is not red, then it does not is true (and vice versa).
have color." An object which is blue is not red, and
still has color. Therefore, in this case the inverse is If a statement (or its contrapositive) and the inverse
false. (or the converse) are both true or both false, it is
known as a logical biconditional.
The converse is "If an object has color, then it is
red." Objects can have other colors, of course, so,
the converse of our statement is false.
7 Application
The negation is "There exists a red object that does
not have color." This statement is false because the
initial statement which it negates is true. Because the contrapositive of a statement always has
the same truth value (truth or falsity) as the statement
itself, it can be a powerful tool for proving mathemati-
In other words, the contrapositive is logically equivalent cal theorems. A proof by contraposition (contrapositive)
to a given conditional statement, though not sucient for is a direct proof of the contrapositive of a statement.[1]
a biconditional. However, indirect methods such as proof by contradic-
Similarly, take the statement "All quadrilaterals have four tion can also be used with contraposition, as, for example,
sides," or equivalently expressed "If a polygon is a quadri- in the proof of the irrationality of the square root of 2. By
lateral, then it has four sides." the denition ofa rational number, the statement can be
made that "If 2 is rational, then it can be expressed as
The contrapositive is "If a polygon does not have an irreducible fraction". This statement is true because it
four sides, then it is not a quadrilateral." This fol- is a restatement of a denition. The contrapositive of this
lows logically, and as a rule, contrapositives share statement is "If 2 cannot be expressed as an irreducible
the truth value of their conditional. fraction, then it is not rational". This contrapositive, like
the original statement,
is also true. Therefore, if it can
The inverse is "If a polygon is not a quadrilateral, be proven that 2 cannot be expressed as an irreducible
then it does not have four sides." In this case, unlike fraction, then it must be the case that 2 is not a rational
the last example, the inverse of the argument is true. number. The latter can be proved by contradiction.
4 9 REFERENCES

The previous example employed the contrapositive of a


denition to prove a theorem. One can also prove a theo-
rem by proving the contrapositive of the theorems state-
ment. To prove that if a positive integer N is a non-square
number, its square root is irrational, we can equivalently
prove its contrapositive, that if a positive integer N has a
square root that is rational, then N is a square number.
This can be shown by setting N equal to the rational ex-
pression a/b with a and b being positive integers with no
common prime factor, and squaring to obtain N = a2 /b2
and noting that since N is a positive integer b=1 so that N
= a2 , a square number.

8 See also
Reductio ad absurdum

9 References
[1] Smith, Douglas; Eggen, Maurice; St. Andre, Richard
(2001), A Transition to Advanced Mathematics (5th ed.),
Brooks/Cole, p. 37, ISBN 0-534-38214-2
5

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