Vacuous truth
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
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A vacuous truth is a truth that is devoid of content because it asserts something about all members of a class that is empty or because it says "If A then B" when in fact A is inherently false. For example, the statement "all cell phones in the room are turned off" may be true simply because there are no cell phones in the room. In this case, the statement "all cell phones in the room are turned on" would also be true, and vacuously so, as would the conjunction of the two: "all cell phones in the room are turned on and turned off".
More formally, a relatively well-defined usage refers to a conditional statement with a false antecedent. One example of such a statement is "if Uluru is in France, then the Eiffel tower is in Bolivia". Such statements are considered vacuous because the falsity of the antecedent prevents one from using the conditional to infer the consequent. They are true because a material conditional is defined to be true when the antecedent is false (or the conclusion is true).
This notion has relevance in pure mathematics, as well as in any other field which uses classical logic.
Outside of mathematics, statements which can be characterized informally as vacuously true can be misleading. Such statements make reasonable assertions about qualified objects which do not actually exist. For example, a child might tell his parents "I ate every vegetable on my plate," when there were no vegetables on the child’s plate to begin with.
See also
- Counterfactual conditional
- Degeneracy (mathematics)
- Supervaluationism
- Tautology (logic)
- Trivial (mathematics)