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Inductive Prop are so wrong!

Throughout this blog post, I will use the term Prop to mean the type of propositions, which does not have to be strict, but has the property that it cannot eliminate to Type.


Long time ago I wrote a PASE question regarding definitional irrelevance. An important pro of Prop in my opinion is that it is more convenient to be turned impredicative. Mathematicians want impredicativity for various reasons, which I will not explain in detail here.

Now I want to point out several reasons to avoid Prop and impredicativity based on Prop. Note that I'm not asking you to get rid of impredicativity in general!

If you're a type theorist and you surf the web, you probably have seen Jon Sterling complaining about inductive Props from a semantic point of view (I think there is something in the second XTT paper, but I've heard more of it from various discord servers).

Ad-hoc termination rules of impredicative Prop

There is another related PASE question regarding termination. You don't have to read it, I'll paraphrase the example.

It makes sense to define the following type:

data BrouwerTree
  = Leaf Bool
  | Branch (Nat -> BrouwerTree)

and have the following structural-induction:

left :: BrouwerTree -> Bool
left (Leaf b) = b
left (Branch xs) = left (xs 0)

Note that in the clause of left (Branch xs), the recursive call left (xs 0) is considered smaller. This assumption is called 'predicative assumption', which cannot be made for Prop because it is impredicative. The famous W-type is also using this assumption.

A counterexample with Prop looks like this (since we need to talk about Props, we start using Agda syntax instead of Haskell):

data Bad : Prop where
  b : ((P : Prop) → P → P) → Bad

bad : Bad
bad = b (λ P p → p)

no-bad : Bad → ⊥
no-bad (b x) = no-bad (x Bad bad)

very-bad : ⊥
very-bad = no-bad bad

Notice that the no-bad (b x) clause uses the recursion no-bad (x Bad bad), which is only valid with the predicative assumption. So, having this predicative assumption actually proves false for Prop, so for Prop, we need to patch the termination checker to ban this rule. It just doesn't feel right!

Coq and Lean have a similar problem, but they are generating eliminators for inductive definitions, so they can generate the correct eliminator for Prop, instead of patching the termination checker. In Coq, the eliminator for Bad is

Bad_ind : forall P : Prop,
    ((forall p : Prop, p -> p) -> P) ->
    Bad -> P

Note that there is no recursive arguments, so there is no recursion allowed. There is no need to patch the termination checker in Coq. If you're using a termination checker, you want to get rid of impredicativity of Prop! This eliminates the need of a universe-based irrelevance.

Alternative ways to impredicativity

We may use axioms to get impredicativity. Suppose we define (since we no longer have it in the language) Prop := Σ (A : Type) (isProp A), there are two different axioms that imply impredicativity of Prop:

  • Propositional resizing, which is basically a restatement of impredicativity.
  • Classical axioms, which implies that A : Prop is either or , which further implies that Prop ≅ Bool, which implies resizing.

If we think of the right way of doing math is to work with classical axioms, why on earth are we forging a theorem into the language?