bivalence, law or principle of

Theory that every proposition is either true or false.

Possible objections are of two kinds.

First, can we decide what counts as a proposition in the relevant sense?

Second, might not the principle fail for some presumably genuine propositions; for example, ‘Jones was brave’ (where Jones died peacefully after a life entirely devoid of danger)?

The law of bivalence is not necessarily the same as that of excluded middle.

MAE Dummett, ‘Truth’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (1958-59)

Relationship to the law of the excluded middle

The principle of bivalence is related to the law of excluded middle though the latter is a syntactic expression of the language of a logic of the form “P ∨ ¬P”. The difference between the principle of bivalence and the law of excluded middle is important because there are logics that validate the law but that do not validate the principle.[2] For example, the three-valued Logic of Paradox (LP) validates the law of excluded middle, but not the law of non-contradiction, ¬(P ∧ ¬P), and its intended semantics is not bivalent.[6] In classical two-valued logic both the law of excluded middle and the law of non-contradiction hold.[1]

Many modern logic programming systems replace the law of the excluded middle with the concept of negation as failure. The programmer may wish to add the law of the excluded middle by explicitly asserting it as true; however, it is not assumed a priori.

Classical logic

The intended semantics of classical logic is bivalent, but this is not true of every semantics for classical logic. In Boolean-valued semantics (for classical propositional logic), the truth values are the elements of an arbitrary Boolean algebra, “true” corresponds to the maximal element of the algebra, and “false” corresponds to the minimal element. Intermediate elements of the algebra correspond to truth values other than “true” and “false”. The principle of bivalence holds only when the Boolean algebra is taken to be the two-element algebra, which has no intermediate elements.

Assigning Boolean semantics to classical predicate calculus requires that the model be a complete Boolean algebra because the universal quantifier maps to the infimum operation, and the existential quantifier maps to the supremum;[7] this is called a Boolean-valued model. All finite Boolean algebras are complete.

Suszko’s thesis

In order to justify his claim that true and false are the only logical values, Suszko (1977) observes that every structural Tarskian many-valued propositional logic can be provided with a bivalent semantics.[8]


Future contingents

A famous example[2] is the contingent sea battle case found in Aristotle’s work, De Interpretatione, chapter 9:

Imagine P refers to the statement “There will be a sea battle tomorrow.”

The principle of bivalence here asserts:

Either it is true that there will be a sea battle tomorrow, or it is false that there will be a sea battle tomorrow.

Aristotle hesitated[clarification needed] to embrace bivalence for such future contingents;[citation needed] Chrysippus, the Stoic logician, did embrace bivalence for this and all other propositions. The controversy continues to be of central importance in both the philosophy of time and the philosophy of logic.[citation needed]

One of the early motivations for the study of many-valued logics has been precisely this issue. In the early 20th century, the Polish formal logician Jan Łukasiewicz proposed three truth-values: the true, the false and the as-yet-undetermined. This approach was later developed by Arend Heyting and L. E. J. Brouwer;[2] see Łukasiewicz logic.

Issues such as this have also been addressed in various temporal logics, where one can assert that “Eventually, either there will be a sea battle tomorrow, or there won’t be.” (Which is true if “tomorrow” eventually occurs.)


Such puzzles as the Sorites paradox and the related continuum fallacy have raised doubt as to the applicability of classical logic and the principle of bivalence to concepts that may be vague in their application. Fuzzy logic and some other multi-valued logics have been proposed as alternatives that handle vague concepts better. Truth (and falsity) in fuzzy logic, for example, comes in varying degrees. Consider the following statement in the circumstance of sorting apples on a moving belt:

This apple is red.[9]

Upon observation, the apple is an undetermined color between yellow and red, or it is mottled both colors. Thus the color falls into neither category ” red ” nor ” yellow “, but these are the only categories available to us as we sort the apples. We might say it is “50% red”. This could be rephrased: it is 50% true that the apple is red. Therefore, P is 50% true, and 50% false. Now consider:

This apple is red and it is not-red.

In other words, P and not-P. This violates the law of noncontradiction and, by extension, bivalence. However, this is only a partial rejection of these laws because P is only partially true. If P were 100% true, not-P would be 100% false, and there is no contradiction because P and not-P no longer holds.

However, the law of the excluded middle is retained, because P and not-P implies P or not-P, since “or” is inclusive. The only two cases where P and not-P is false (when P is 100% true or false) are the same cases considered by two-valued logic, and the same rules apply.

Example of a 3-valued logic applied to vague (undetermined) cases: Kleene 1952[10] (§64, pp. 332–340) offers a 3-valued logic for the cases when algorithms involving partial recursive functions may not return values, but rather end up with circumstances “u” = undecided. He lets “t” = “true”, “f” = “false”, “u” = “undecided” and redesigns all the propositional connectives. He observes that:

We were justified intuitionistically in using the classical 2-valued logic, when we were using the connectives in building primitive and general recursive predicates, since there is a decision procedure for each general recursive predicate; i.e. the law of the excluded middle is proved intuitionistically to apply to general recursive predicates.

Now if Q(x) is a partial recursive predicate, there is a decision procedure for Q(x) on its range of definition, so the law of the excluded middle or excluded “third” (saying that, Q(x) is either t or f) applies intuitionistically on the range of definition. But there may be no algorithm for deciding, given x, whether Q(x) is defined or not. […] Hence it is only classically and not intuitionistically that we have a law of the excluded fourth (saying that, for each x, Q(x) is either t, f, or u).

The third “truth value” u is thus not on par with the other two t and f in our theory. Consideration of its status will show that we are limited to a special kind of truth table”.

The following are his “strong tables”:[11]

~Q QVR R t f u Q&R R t f u Q→R R t f u Q=R R t f u
Q t f Q t t t t Q t t f u Q t t f u Q t t f u
f t f t f u f f f f f t t t f f t u
u u u t u u u u f u u t u u u u u u

For example, if a determination cannot be made as to whether an apple is red or not-red, then the truth value of the assertion Q: ” This apple is red ” is ” u “. Likewise, the truth value of the assertion R ” This apple is not-red ” is ” u “. Thus the AND of these into the assertion Q AND R, i.e. ” This apple is red AND this apple is not-red ” will, per the tables, yield ” u “. And, the assertion Q OR R, i.e. ” This apple is red OR this apple is not-red ” will likewise yield ” u “.

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