[FOM] "Literal"

Charles Silver silver_1 at mindspring.com
Sat Sep 9 15:31:32 EDT 2006

William Tait wrote:
> I have used the term "prime" for atomic and negated atomic formulas---
> e.g. in my paper "Normal derivability in classical logic" in 1967,
> and so not predating the Quine and (shame on you Martin) Davis-Putnam
> strange use of the term "literal". The motivation was (is) that the
> composite formulas are built up from the prime ones by means of the
> lattice operations of disjunction, conjunction, and the quantifiers
> (if we identify formulas with their De Morgan equivalents).

	Great!!  To me, "Prime" seems so apt a term for its denotation as to  
override the history of "literal".  I'm also glad to read that  
"prime" is enshrined in one of your publications (even though it does  
not precede Quine's).   The only doubt I had when I first read the  
above was that Quine and everyone else in c.s. who uses the Quine- 
McCluskey algorithm also use "prime implicant" (for a totally  
different) concept.   However, what links the two uses of "prime", it  
seems to me, is that they're both fundamental building blocks of a  
sort, just as prime numbers are the fundamental building blocks of  
the integers.

	I want to thank everyone who's replied to my query.   I appreciate  
all the responses.

P.S.  It's odd, isn't it, that such a wordsmith as Quine would use  
the term "literal".   I don't get it.

More information about the FOM mailing list