REVIEW OF 1988. Saccheri, G. Euclides Vindicatus (1733), edited and translated by G. B. Halsted, 2nd ed. (1986), in Mathematical Reviews MR0862448. 88j:01013.

MATHEMATICAL REVIEWS 88 (J):88j:01013 (1988)
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Girolamo Saccheri (1667--1733) was an Italian Jesuit priest, scholastic philosopher, and mathematician. He earned a permanent place in the history of mathematics by discovering and rigorously deducing an elaborate chain of consequences of an axiom-set for what is now known as hyperbolic (or Lobachevskian) plane geometry. Reviewer's remarks: (1) On two pages of this book Saccheri refers to his previous and equally original book Logica demonstrativa (Turin, 1697) to which 14 of the 16 pages of the editor's "Introduction" are devoted. At the time of the first edition, 1920, the editor was apparently not acquainted with the secondary literature on Logica demonstrativa which continued to grow in the period preceding the second edition \ref[see D. J. Struik, in Dictionary of scientific biography, Vol. 12, 55--57, Scribner's, New York, 1975]. Of special interest in this connection is a series of three articles by A. F. Emch [Scripta Math. 3 (1935), 51--60; Zbl 10, 386; ibid. 3 (1935), 143--152; Zbl 11, 193; ibid. 3 (1935), 221--333; Zbl 12, 98]. (2) It seems curious that modern writers believe that demonstration of the "nondeducibility" of the parallel postulate vindicates Euclid whereas at first Saccheri seems to have thought that demonstration of its "deducibility" is what would vindicate Euclid. Saccheri is perfectly clear in his commitment to the ancient (and now discredited) view that it is wrong to take as an "axiom" a proposition which is not a "primal verity", which is not "known through itself". So it would seem that Saccheri should think that he was convicting Euclid of error by deducing the parallel postulate. The resolution of this confusion is that Saccheri thought that he had proved, not merely that the parallel postulate was true, but that it was a "primal verity" and, thus, that Euclid was correct in taking it as an "axiom". As implausible as this claim about Saccheri may seem, the passage on p. 237, lines 3--15, seems to admit of no other interpretation. Indeed, Emch takes it this way. (3) As has been noted by many others, Saccheri was fascinated, if not obsessed, by what may be called "reflexive indirect deductions", indirect deductions which show that a conclusion follows from given premises by a chain of reasoning beginning with the given premises augmented by the denial of the desired conclusion and ending with the conclusion itself. It is obvious, of course, that this is simply a species of ordinary indirect deduction; a conclusion follows from given premises if a contradiction is deducible from those given premises augmented by the denial of the conclusion---and it is immaterial whether the contradiction involves one of the premises, the denial of the conclusion, or even, as often happens, intermediate propositions distinct from the given premises and the denial of the conclusion. Saccheri seemed to think that a proposition proved in this way was deduced from its own denial and, thus, that its denial was self-contradictory (p. 207). Inference from this mistake to the idea that propositions proved in this way are "primal verities" would involve yet another confusion. The reviewer gratefully acknowledges extensive communication with his former doctoral students J. Gasser and M. Scanlan. ADDED 14 March 14, 2015: (1) Wikipedia reports that many of Saccheri's ideas have a precedent in the 11th Century Persian polymath Omar Khayyám's Discussion of Difficulties in Euclid, a fact ignored in most Western sources until recently. It is unclear whether Saccheri had access to this work in translation, or developed his ideas independently. (2) This book is another exemplification of the huge difference between indirect deduction and indirect reduction. Indirect deduction requires making an assumption that is inconsistent with the premises previously adopted. This means that the reasoner must perform a certain mental act of assuming a certain proposition. It case the premises are all known truths, indirect deduction—which would then be indirect proof—requires the reasoner to assume a falsehood. This fact has been noted by several prominent mathematicians including Hardy, Hilbert, and Tarski. Indirect reduction requires no new assumption. Indirect reduction is simply a transformation of an argument in one form into another argument in a different form. In an indirect reduction one proposition in the old premise set is replaced by the contradictory opposite of the old conclusion and the new conclusion becomes the contradictory opposite of the replaced premise. Roughly and schematically, P,Q/R becomes P,~R/~Q or ~R, Q/~P. Saccheri’s work involved indirect deduction not indirect reduction. (3) The distinction between indirect deduction and indirect reduction has largely slipped through the cracks, the cracks between medieval-oriented logic and modern-oriented logic. The medievalists have a heavy investment in reduction and, though they have heard of deduction, they think that deduction is a form of reduction, or vice versa, or in some cases they think that the word ‘deduction’ is the modern way of referring to reduction. The modernists have no interest in reduction, i.e. in the process of transforming one argument into another having exactly the same number of premises. Modern logicians, like Aristotle, are concerned with deducing a single proposition from a set of propositions. Some focus on deducing a single proposition from the null set—something difficult to relate to reduction.

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John Corcoran
PhD: Johns Hopkins University; Last affiliation: University at Buffalo


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