I want to understand the difference between mathematical and philosophical logic. I actually thought they were the same till I read this post. Concisely speaking, what is the difference between how a philosopher conceives as logic vs how a mathematician does?

  • That's easy! Logic is a set of internal rules. Math is a language to explain mostly physics. Therefore, mathematical logic is a set of rules to govern the language of math. It's mostly the same for philosophy. Philosophy is the best explained as the study of ideas and concepts themselves. Philosophical logic provides the internal rules for ideas and concepts. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 1:03
  • Originally there were Formal logic since Aristotle. During the 19th Century, following the development of symbolic mathematics, Formal logic "evolved" into Symbolic logic. Modern symbolic logic is used by some modern philosophers to analyze philosophical arguments. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 15:29
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    Mathematical logic is a mathematical discipline where symbolic logic is applied to mathematics itself to analyze mathematical concepts, arguments (proofs) and theories (see Metamathematics). Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 15:29
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    @ariParkhurst It doesn't really sound like you're very familiar with math if you think it exists to explain physics...
    – Numeri
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 8:29
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    Basically Philosophy was concerned with knowledge & how we come to know what we know. Reasoning would justify how we came to know. Logic taught I. Old school philosophy is different from today. All so called logic is a variation of Mathematical logic. Aristotelian logic was different in content, form & intention. Some of the same words do not mean the same thing from philosophy to math. The real world application may also be different between the two fields. There is no such thing as JUST LOGIC. There are specific types. Each type may do something others do not. One should state what type.
    – Logikal
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 12:34

7 Answers 7


The definitions of 'logic' and 'mathematics' are themselves subject to dispute. In particular, the word 'logic' is used in different senses. At its narrowest, it is concerned with the relationship of consequence between propositions or sentences. In a wider sense it is sometimes used as a synonym for good reasoning, i.e. it has a cognitive component. In a wider sense still, it sometimes means what is rational and prudent: according to Mr Spock, it is illogical to cause the extinction of a species. Logicians themselves tend to stick to the narrow sense.

Also, the term has evolved over time. Originally logic was concerned with what distinguishes a good argument from a bad one. It had a strong normative aspect. You ought to reason like this; you ought not to reason like that. Today, whether logic is normative or descriptive is a debated question in the philosophy of logic. Much of what used to be part of logic is now considered to be epistemology.

But I would say that the short answer to your question is that mathematical logic is simply logic done with mathematical rigour. Which is to say, with a high degree of use of symbols and strict formalisms, and typically expressed using formal languages, axioms, and rules. Logic as used by philosophers is often expressed in natural language, because many arguments are difficult to formalise precisely. As a result, such logic is often informal in nature, although many philosophers use formal logic wherever feasible, just because it is less error prone and helps to avoid ambiguities and other problems.

If you pick up an introductory textbook of mathematical logic it will start by teaching you classical propositional logic and first order logic. It will most likely include some proof theory, model theory, recursion theory, and set theory. Also, some meta level material about compactness, completeness, undecidability, definability, and computability.

If you pick up an introductory textbook aimed at philosophers, it will also teach you classical propositional and first order logic. You will get some proof theory, including formal methods of natural deduction. You will probably get less material on completeness and computability, etc., but you will likely get some coverage of common fallacies in reasoning, and maybe some material about causal reasoning and some elementary probability theory.

Textbooks aimed at computer scientists, particularly those specialising in AI, will also teach you classical propositional and first order logic. Again, you will get some proof theory and model theory. And usually some Bayesian probability theory and maybe an introduction to default logic.

As such, there is a great deal of overlap, and mostly the difference is one of emphasis.

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    I respect that this is a "philosophy" site, so I won't contribute a competing answer, but as an ex-mathematician I'd define mathematical logic a bit differently. Not as a heavy use of symbols or of mathematical rigor, but rather by what the symbols tend to stand for and what the rigor is applied to. For me, mathematical logic is the use of mathematics to study mathematical reasoning (mathematics) itself. Enhanced rigor is possible because the subject matter is highly abstract, studied in its highly formalized form. As such, mathematical logic is simply a branch of mathematics. Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 16:31
  • I agree that mathematicians do tend to study that portion of logic that is applicable to mathematics itself. So one could regard mathematical logic as the overlap between mathematics and logic. I can only say that having read many textbooks of logic aimed at philosophers, computer scientists and mathematicians, I am more impressed with what they have in common, rather than with the differences.
    – Bumble
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 22:21
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    The part of mathematical logic that easily fits into a textbook of logic aimed at philosophers is a tiny, almost trivial part of mathematical logic. For a view of how the field is understood by its practitioners, you could look at section names of any year's Logic Colloquium conference. That conference is far from narrowly mathematical, but it does represent active research in mathematical logic rather well. Such as computability, model theory, proof systems, set theory, univalent foundations, modal logic... lc2021.pl/conf-data/LC2020/files/LC2021_program_22-07-2021.pdf Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 8:23
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    I think you underestimate how important logic is in philosophy. Much of the conference you linked would be of interest to philosophers. Modal logic in particular has an important place in philosophy: e.g. Michael Dummett, The Logical Basis of Metaphysics, and Timothy Williamson, Metaphysics as Modal Logic. Model theory also: e.g. Timothy Button, Philosophy and Model Theory. Philosophers also are concerned with computability. complexity theory, set theory, etc. My point is that 'logic' doesn't mean something different when philosophers use it compared with when mathematicians use it.
    – Bumble
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 19:38
  • I think that you underestimate how much I agree with the bulk of your answer. Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 20:38


The definitions of 'logic' and 'mathematics' are themselves subject to dispute. In particular, the word 'logic' is used in different senses. - Bumble

Bumble's answer is great, and mine is meant to supplement his with links of convenience.

Short Answer

Philosophical logic encompasses both informal and formal types. Mathematical logic is a rigorous use of formal logic to do proof and models. There are no rigorous divisions between philosophical logic and mathematical logic, except in how universities are organized to teach these topics. Likewise, it would be difficult to draw a sharp line between logic and math.

If one were to caricature it, philosophical logic is done to understand the nature of logic and further logical arguments, whereas mathematical logic is used to make claims about mathematics and theorems. Of course, many philosophers, particularly in the analytical tradition, look to mathematics to make philosophical arguments.

Long Answer

While one may not be able to provide a definition of necessity and sufficiency to definitively lay out criteria for the two terms, 'mathematics' and 'logic', one can establish what is known as a prototypical definition in the spirit of what is known in philosophy as family resemblances of meanings. This second method of definition requires a broad familiarity with what is generally held to be criteria or characterizations.

Mathematics can be seen as the study of the interrelation of study of certain topics such as numbers and number sense, shape, direction, relations, and operations. Logic on the other hand is concerned with truth, rhetoric, logical proof, fallacies, argumentation, logical formalisms like propositional calculus, and questions about language like the difference between syntax and semantics or the difference between an utterance and proposition.

Today, the intersection of both might be understood as mathematical logic which uses formal systems to study proof systems and mathematical models, inter alia.

From "mathematics":

Mathematics (from Ancient Greek μάθημα (máthēma) 'knowledge, study, learning') is an area of knowledge, which includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory),1 formulas and related structures (algebra),5 shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry),1 and quantities and their changes (calculus and analysis).35 There is no general consensus about its exact scope or epistemological status.6

If you haven't studied mathematics at an undergraduate level, it's difficult to get a sense of what modern mathematics encompasses, but a peek at all of its branches can be seen here at The Map of Mathematics (YT).

From logic:

Logic is the study of correct reasoning or good arguments. It is often defined in a more narrow sense as the science of deductively valid inferences or of logical truths. In this sense, it is equivalent to formal logic and constitutes a formal science investigating how conclusions follow from premises in a topic-neutral way or which propositions are true only in virtue of the logical vocabulary they contain. When used as a countable noun, the term "a logic" refers to a logical formal system. Formal logic contrasts with informal logic, which is also part of logic when understood in the widest sense. There is no general agreement on how the two are to be distinguished. One prominent approach associates their difference with the study of arguments expressed in formal or informal languages. Another characterizes informal logic as the study of ampliative inferences, in contrast to the deductive inferences studied by formal logic. But it is also common to link their difference to the distinction between formal and informal fallacies.

If you haven't studied mathematics at an undergraduate level, it's difficult to get a sense of what modern philosophical methods encompass, but here is The Map of Philosophy (YT) at about 1:40 to 8:00.


There are many logics, and thus philosophers and mathematicians may conceive of "logic" similarly or differently in a large variety of cases.

So the question as it stands is somewhat vague. But perhaps this will clarify:

Philosophical logic has "philosophical"- whatever that means - concerns. For a sampling, these include modal logics, which are indispensable to modern day philosophy, as well the nature of truth, logical pluralism, etc. Mathematical logic has "mathematical" concerns- given some logical system, we wish to see if certain properties hold, eg completeness, soundness, decidability.

This is not to say that mathematical logicians may not study, say modal logic. Indeed, working in either subfield usually requires that one have some understanding of both the mathematical and philosophical aspects of logic. The difference is that when one publishes in a math journal, reviewers wish to see mathematical tools and methods applied to the logical system in question. And likewise for philosophy.


Basically, the logic used in mathematical proofs is more informal than that of pure symbolic logic. In the latter, you have to explicitly specify and document/annotate every minute step of a derivation/proof; in a typical mathematical proof, on the other hand, you can be more loose or free-style about it.

For general logic, I recommend "Schaum's outline of Logic" by Nolt and Rohatyn (the best introductory logic book). For logic as applied to math, I recommend "How to prove it", by Velleman. There's also "Introduction to Logic", by Copi, which has been a standard intro textbook for a long time. But I would always start with Schaum's.

One of the most important concepts in logic is "proof by contradiction", aka "reductio ad absurdum" or RAA. Very powerful.


I believe that your question can be at least partially answered by considering the original research program that led to the creation of modern mathematical logic. Much of proof theory stems from research on the foundations of mathematics that was carried out by Hilbert, Bernays, Gödel, and others during the first few decades of the twentieth century. After the discovery in the late nineteenth century that Frege’s foundational approach was hindered by Russell’s paradox, which in turn had problematic implications for Cantorian set theory as a foundation for mathematics, mathematicians became alarmed at the possibility that some of the assumptions and methods underlying their research might also entail a hidden logical contradiction. Hence the objective of what came to be known as Hilbert’s program was to formally axiomatize mathematics, and to provide a rigorous proof of its logical consistency. The highly formalized, symbolically-oriented proof theory that one encounters in modern texts on mathematical logic was invented in this context about a century ago by the people who were working on Hilbert’s program.

The other major branch of mathematical logic - model theory - was arguably invented with the same considerations in mind. In his famous Grundlagen der Geometrie, published in 1899, David Hilbert was interested in establishing the consistency of Euclidean geometry, and he went about this by providing what might now be considered a model of Euclid’s axioms in two-dimensional real space. Hence much of the original inspiration for model theory was similar to that of proof theory, namely a perceived need to establish the consistency of a mathematical theory that was thought to have already been demonstrated as true. Of course, Hilbert's approach here implicitly assumed Gödel’s completeness theorem which establishes the equivalence of satisfiability and consistency in first-order logic, which itself was a product of the research program undertaken several decades later that was described above in the first paragraph.

Obviously, the scope of mathematical logic has expanded over the past century or so. Current research in logic that could be considered distinctly mathematical, as opposed to philosophical (whatever that means) might include model-theoretic algebra and the formalization of proof in homotopy type theory. But even in these instances, there are people who are employed by philosophy departments who are also making contributions. In my view, it is generally difficult to draw a meaningful distinction between “mathematics” and “philosophy” in the context of foundational subjects like formal logic.

  • +1 Very thorough!
    – J D
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 14:52

Logic in general is a study of arguments: how they work, how they are categorized, which ones are strong or valid. Logicians often construct rules about what makes a good or valid argument.

Mathematical logic is not a study of arguments; it is a study of logic itself. That is, it is a study of the rules that logicians make, how the rules interact, what they mean, to what extent they can be reduced to mere meaningless structures that can be employed automatically.

For example, a logician might define the rule of modes ponens: if A is true and A implies B, then B is true. Notice that this rule is about propositions, sentences with meanings that are either true or false.

Mathematical logic might then reduce this to a formal rule:

A, A->B

This rule is not about literal propositions (although they are called propositions); it is about symbols and formulas. There is a set of formulas that are derivable. This rule says that if A is a derivable formula and A->B is a derivable formula, then B is also a derivable formula. It doesn't matter whether A or B is true; they don't even have a meaning. They are just formulas.


I know mathematical logic, I only assume w.r.t. philosophical logic.

Math builds its logic model on a few core principles, e.g.:

  1. Something can be either true, or false. There is no "maybe". (For some things, we cannot say. That's another thing, whether something can be deduced etc. But in the end, the result, IF there is any, it can ONLY be true or false.)
  2. If something is true, it's opposite is not. Or: Two things can't be true at the same time and contradict each other.

It's a black and white world, e.g. a (natural) number is either even, or odd: " for any x of the natural numbers, odd(x) is true if (x+1) is a multiple of 2." And it's a rather timeless world, if something can be deduced from basic axioms, it remains true (as long as the axioms hold - and they usually do :)).

Philosophy, from my understanding, is not that strict. Strong points in arguments can be "right" at a specific point in the argument and "wrong" in another. Another argument following may turn this upside-down, a new system of premises may lead to a complete reevaluation. Things that were right yesterday because of various assumptions, may be wrong tomorrow.

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    Unfortunately, intuitionistic logic and paraconsistent set theory are both counterexamples to (1) and (2), here. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 18:54
  • Fuzzy set theory is one branch of math that muddies both the principle of bivalence and the law of the excluded middle.
    – J D
    Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 14:50
  • "Philosophy, from my understanding, is not that strict". You did not study Analytic Philosophy, did you? No, you didn't. Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 10:29
  • Hi John, welcome to Phil.SE :) Please refrain from answers based on non-researched intuitions, especially when you clearly state that you don't have the sufficient understanding of the subject. Check out the how to answer post. Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 8:46

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