- 2: degree of firmness, density, viscosity, or resistance to movement or separation of constituent particles <boil the juice to the consistency of a thick syrup>
- 3a : agreement or harmony of parts or features to one another or a whole : correspondence; specifically : ability to be asserted together without contradiction
In logic, a consistent theory is one that does not contain a contradiction. The lack of contradiction can be defined in either semantic or syntactic terms. The semantic definition states that a theory is consistent if it has a model; this is the sense used in traditional Aristotelian logic, although in contemporary mathematical logic the term satisfiable is used instead. The syntactic definition states that a theory is consistent if there is no formula P such that both P and its negation are provable from the axioms of the theory under its associated deductive system.
If these semantic and syntactic definitions are equivalent for a particular logic, the logic is complete. The completeness of sentential calculus was proved by Paul Bernays in 1918 and Emil Post in 1921, while the completeness of predicate calculus was proved by Kurt Gödel in 1930, and consistency proofs for arithmetics restricted with respect to the induction axiom schema were proved by Ackermann (1924), von Neumann (1927) and Herbrand (1931. Stronger logics, such as second-order logic, are not complete.
A consistency proof is a mathematical proof that a particular theory is consistent. The early development of mathematical proof theory was driven by the desire to provide finitary consistency proofs for all of mathematics as part of Hilbert's program. Hilbert's program was strongly impacted by incompleteness theorems, which showed that sufficiently strong proof theories cannot prove their own consistency (provided that they are in fact consistent).
Although consistency can be proved by means of model theory, it is often done in a purely syntactical way, without any need to reference some model of the logic. The cut-elimination (or equivalently the normalization of the underlying calculus if there is one) implies the consistency of the calculus: since there is obviously no cut-free proof of falsity, there is no contradiction in general.
Consistency and completeness in arithmetic
In theories of arithmetic, such as Peano arithmetic, there is an intricate relationship between the consistency of the theory and its completeness. A theory is complete if, for every formula φ in its language, at least one of φ or ¬ φ is a logical consequence of the theory.
Gödel's incompleteness theorems show that any sufficiently strong effective theory of arithmetic cannot be both complete and consistent. Gödel's theorem applies to the theories of Peano arithmetic (PA) and Primitive recursive arithmetic (PRA), but not to Presburger arithmetic.
Moreover, Gödel's second incompleteness theorem shows that the consistency of sufficiently strong effective theories of arithmetic can be tested in a particular way. Such a theory is consistent if and only if it does not prove a particular sentence, called the Gödel sentence of the theory, which is a formalized statement of the claim that the theory is indeed consistent. Thus the consistency of a sufficiently strong, effective, consistent theory of arithmetic can never be proven in that system itself. The same result is true for effective theories that can describe a strong enough fragment of arithmetic – including set theories such as Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory. These set theories cannot prove their own Gödel sentences – provided that they are consistent, which is generally believed.