# A crash course in first-order logic

Tweet2015.07.13

This is a short but reasonably complete description of first-order logic, a rich system to reason about objects and their relationships. I care mostly about first-order logic for its role in statistical relational learning (a branch of machine learning), which I'll cover in another post. If you want a more detailed explanation, see Russell and Norvig's excellent A.I. book.

## Terms

Terms represent objects and relationships between objects, they are the reason why first-order logic is so flexible. There are three types of terms:

**Constants**represent objects, e.g.:*Tokyo*, the number*47*,*Cylon*,*Lion*.**Variables**range over objects, e.g. the variable*c*could represent a city,*x*an integer,*s*a species. By convention, variables will start with a lowercase character (it's not a universal convention, in fact it's common to have the opposite).**Functions**map lists of terms to a term, e.g.*CapitalOf*could take a country and return a city, while*Multiply*takes two numbers and returns a number.

Example:

\[Add(x, 5).\]*Add* is a function taking two numbers and returning a number, *x*
is a variable, and 5 is a constant. Since a function is a term, it can be used
within functions:

## Predicates

First-order logic formulas ultimately resolve to a truth value: True or
False, yet the terms we've seen can represent cities, numbers, pretty much
anything. To get a truth value, we need predicates. A predicate is like a
function but it maps terms to a truth value instead of mapping them to a term.
For example, if we want to say that adding 0 to *x* yields *x*, we
can write:

It's common to use the equal sign for the "equals" (or identity) predicate:

\[Add(x, 0) = x.\]*Equals* is a predicate. In this case it takes two numbers and returns
true or false. We could have a predicate taking three cities and return
true if they are on the same continent:

where *SameContinent* is a predicate, *Toronto* and *Europe*
are constants, *c* a variable ranging over cities, and both
*CapitalOf* and *LargestCountryOf* are functions taking a single
argument.

## Atomic formulas

An atomic formula is something that, alone, is a valid first-order logic formula. A predicate is an atomic formula since it returns a truth value, but we also have two special symbols: True and False.

**True** is also called *top*, and can be represented with the symbol \(\top\) or just T.

**False** is also called *bottom*, and can be represented with the symbol \(\bot\) or just F.

## Connectives

You can connect formulas with connectives to form complex formulas. The standard connectives are:

- The binary connective
**and**: \(x \land y\), which is true only if both \(x\) and \(y\) are true. Like all other connectives shown here, if \(x\) and \(y\) are valid formulas, then \(x \land y\) is also a valid formula. - The binary connective
**or**: \(x \lor y\), which is true only if \(x\) is true, if \(y\) is true, or if both are true. - The binary connective
**implies**: \(x \Rightarrow y\), returns true in all cases, except if \(x\) is true and \(y\) is false. - The binary connective
**iff**: \(x \iff y\), returns true if \(x\) and \(y\) have the same value, that is if they are both true, or both false. - The binary connective
**xor**(exclusive or): \(x \oplus y\), returns true if \(x\) and \(y\) have different values. - The unary connective
**not**: \(\lnot x\), which is true only if \(x\) is false.

Be careful with implication, there is nothing wrong with it, except that it
doesn't fit how we use the term *implies*. For example:
\(Equals(AgeOf(Earth), 42) \Rightarrow StillAlive(Elvis)\) is true. If you're
confused, read again the description of **implies**. Here's the truth
table for the binary connectives:

Connective | Informal name | Symbol | T x T | T x F | F x T | F x F |
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

Conjunction | and | \(\land\) | T | F | F | F |

Disjunction | or | \(\lor\) | T | T | T | F |

Implication | implies | \(\Rightarrow\) | T | F | T | T |

Equivalence | iff | \(\leftrightarrow\) | T | F | F | T |

Exclusive disjunction | xor | \(\veebar\) | F | T | T | F |

## Qualifiers

There are two qualifiers in first-order logic: the universal qualifier "for all" denoted \(\forall\), and the existential qualifier "exists" denoted \(\exists\). They, well, qualify variables, e.g.:

\[\forall x: Multiply(x, 0) = 0\]reads "for all x, multiplying x by 0 yields 0". Another example:

\[\forall x: Real(x) \Rightarrow (\exists y: y > x)\]which means, "for all real numbers x, there is a number y that is greater than x". Note that both \(Real\) and the > sign are predicates.

A last example: we can express "there is a color c brighter than x, unless x is white" with:

\[\forall x: IsWhite(x) \lor (\exists c: BrighterThan(c, x)).\]