Welcome to the Principia Rewrite project website!
What we are doing is best explained by a picture:
We are taking Whitehead and Russell’s original Principia proof on the left, which is really a proof sketch omitting a lot of steps, and filling out the missing steps. For this we are using the interactive theorem prover
Coq to ensure each proof step is a valid step according to Principia’s axioms and that no steps are skipped, even by accident. Finally, we are using the
Coq encoding to typeset the full, gapless proof as it would appear in Principia’s notation.
Because it is fun. We also want academics and the public to engage more with Whitehead and Russell’s landmark three-volume work on logic and the foundations of mathematics. The project aims to facilitate that by producing a scholarly edition of Principia that is pleasingly typeset and searchable.
No. We also think that computational methods, and especially interactive theorem provers that help one rationally reconstruct arguments, can be of some use to historians of philosophy. We aim to prove this - that computational tools can augment traditional methods in history of philosophy - by giving an example.
Yes. Principia has been criticized by famous logicians like Kurt Gödel as being a “step backwards” from Frege and for being generally sloppy. We think that some of these charges are definitely overstated, and we want to contribute to the scholarly literature by rebutting some of them.
No. Because we want to typeset Principia pleasingly, we are also creating a
LaTeX package for typesetting Principia’s idiosyncratic notation, which is no longer included in standard typesetting engines. We have already published a
principia package on
CTAN that covers all notations occurring in Volume I of Principia. We will extend it to Volumes II and III in due course.
We also want to create a subway-style map of Principia that allows one to click a theorem and see where it is used, what is used to prove it, and so on. One will be able to survey the text of Principia for the first time. So we are also marking up Principia’s theorems and proof sketches, and the
Coq ones, in
XML. Then we will use
Python to create the interactive maps.
It is definitely a lot. We would be very happy to get Volume I done by 2025, which will be exactly one hundred years since Principia’s second edition was published. So we might give a rough estimate of one volume every five years.
The principal investigator is your resident logical atomist, Landon D. C. Elkind (@LogicalAtomist), who is affiliated with the Department of Philosophy at the University of Alberta. I began and am currently undertaking this project with the support of an Izaak Walton Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship.
The Principia Rewrite project has a GitHub repository. Regular updates and the source code are made available there. Project milestones will be announced below.
The project has formally verified Principia’s propositional logic proof sketches - for all 189 theorems in *1-to-*5 - for the very first time. This improves significantly on the earlier computer verification work of Allen Newell et al., Hao Wang, and Daniel O’Leary. In all three cases, either some theorems were not verified or their proofs were not reconstructed according to Principia’s proof sketches. Our project in contrast reconstructs all the proofs in a way that is faithful to the text: each completion of Principia’s proof in
Coq makes use of every theorem cited in Principia’s proof sketch.
As of February 15, 2021, the Principia Rewrite project has also produced:
principia, for typesetting any symbol in Principia’s Volume I
Coqfile of Principia’s propositional logic (*1-*5), running about 4,700 lines of code / 113 pages
LaTeX, going from its introduction through the end of its propositional logic (up to *5).
There are further developments to come: a high priority for the project is to build a map of the first five chapters (“starred numbers”) of Principia - because maps are fun and cool, besides being informative when done well.
If you have any questions, criticisms, or thoughts related to the Principia Rewrite project, write to
elkind at ualberta dot ca.