Pitfalls and problems in 3-valued logic

It needs to be recognized that 3-valued logic is a simplified approach to modal logic, and does not attempt to cover all the profundities and complexities that philosophers have explored. For instance, all the modes are two-valued. There is no attempt to explore whether sentences that are definitely true are necessarily so; or if something is possible, whether it is necessarily possible or only contingently so. Rather than focus on what it cannot do, I prefer to draw attention to what it can do.

The simple statements “P is true” and “P is false” are somewhat ambiguous in 3 valued logic. It is useful to ask “is it definitely true or false, or possibly true or false?.” It makes a difference.

This is noteworthy because in computer science, the data base language SQL contains a partial implementation of three valued logic. For purposes of computing, a decision often needs to be made about whether an item should be included in a search or merger, or excluded. Here, the modal functions would be beneficial. The difficulty is that to my understanding, these are often performed in an implicit, automatic, and hidden fashion, and even worse, differently for different functions. This makes SQL more difficult than it ought to be. It may sometimes give baffling, incomprehensible, or contradictory results. It may require elaborate, careful circumlocution to get desired results.

The notions of “necessity” and “possibility” in traditional modal logic do not correspond exactly to the usage enforced by this logic. I am not an expert in philosophy and have not attempted to delve into these matters. “Alethic modalities”, “Epistemic modalities”, “deontic modalities”, and others are recognized. This logic doesn’t attempt to distinguish among them. While the results are mathematically consistent, they may or may not correspond to accepted understanding and conventions.

There is also difficulty with interpretation of the third logical value as “contingent”. This logic makes no distinction between contingently true and contingently false, and cannot reliably distinguish between “necessarily true” and “contingently true”. This would require a logic of at least four values. It is my contention that the three-valued logic is not yet sufficiently understood to successfully and reliably develop the four valued one.

One of the more insidious traps is with shifting concepts of “uncertain”. Uncertain may mean “possibly true”, or “not definitely false”, in which case it could correspond to <>P or ~[]~P. It could be used to mean the third logical value and correspond to ?P. I termed this sense “equivocal”. It could also be used to signify “Definitely true or definitely false, but we don’t know which”. This would correspond to !p. I have termed this sense “dichotomous”. It could be used in a broad sense to mean that the truth value of a statement is undetermined yet and could be T, U, or F. It is noteworthy that equivocal uncertainty and dichotomous uncertainty are very much alike and behave quite similarly, although in this logic, they are strictly contradictory. This has historically made discussion of “uncertain” slippery and difficult.

This is closely tied to the principle of the excluded middle. In general, I call it a principle, not a law, because it is a contingent statement applying to some statements, but not others. This, for instance, came up when Lukasiewicz proposed using his third logical value to signify future events such as “I will be in Warsaw next December 25.” One logician objected that this had to be either true or false, and so the third logical value could not be used to apply to it. Tweet! Foul! Insisting that a statement that you have used the third value for must be either true or false is already a contradiction. If you’re going to reassert the law of the excluded middle or one of its equivalents, there is no point in using the third value at all, and you can stick with classical two-valued logic. It has nothing to do with whether three valued logic is consistent or whether it works.

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