is a statement that is taken to be true, to serve as a premise
or starting point for further reasoning and arguments. The word comes from the Greek axíōma
) 'that which is thought worthy or fit
' or 'that which commends itself as evident.'
The term has subtle differences in definition when used in the context of different fields of study. As defined in classic philosophy, an axiom is a statement that is so evident or well-established, that it is accepted without controversy
or question. As used in modern logic
, an axiom is simply a premise or starting point for reasoning.
As used in mathematics, the term axiom
is used in two related but distinguishable senses: "logical axioms" and "non-logical axioms". Logical axioms are usually statements that are taken to be true within the system of logic they define (e.g., (A
) implies A
), often shown in symbolic form, while non-logical axioms (e.g., a + b = b + a
) are actually substantive
assertions about the elements of the domain of a specific mathematical theory (such as arithmetic). When used in the latter sense, "axiom", "postulate", and "assumption
" may be used interchangeably
. In general, a non-logical axiom is not a self-evident truth, but rather a formal logical expression used in deduction
a mathematical theory. As modern mathematics admits multiple, equally "true" systems of logic, precisely the same thing must be said for logical axioms - they both define and are specific to the particular system of logic that is being invoked. To axiomatize a system of knowledge is to show that its claims can be derived from a small, well-understood set of sentences (the axioms). There are typically multiple ways to axiomatize a given mathematical domain.
In both senses, an axiom is any mathematical statement that serves as a starting point from which other statements are logically derived. Within the system they define, axioms (unless redundant
) cannot be derived by principles of deduction, nor are they demonstrable by mathematical proofs, simply because they are starting points; there is nothing else from which they logically follow otherwise they would be classified as theorems. However, an axiom in one system may be a theorem in another, and vice versa
. Whether it is meaningful (and, if so, what it means) for an axiom, or any mathematical statement, to be "true" is an open question in the philosophy of mathematics.