In logic, ** reductio ad absurdum** (Latin for "reduction to absurdity"), also known as

This argument form traces back to Ancient Greek philosophy and has been used throughout history in both formal mathematical and philosophical reasoning, as well as in debate. Formally, the proof technique is captured by an axiom for "Reductio ad Absurdum", normally given the abbreviation RAA, which is expressible in propositional logic.
This axiom is the introduction rule for negation (see *negation introduction*) and it is sometimes named to make this connection clear. It is a consequence of the related mathematical proof technique called *proof by contradiction*.

The "absurd" conclusion of a *reductio ad absurdum* argument can take a range of forms, as these examples show:

- The Earth cannot be flat; otherwise, since the Earth is assumed to be finite in extent, we would find people falling off the edge.
- There is no smallest positive rational number because such a number would have to not be divisible by two, which is impossible.

The first example argues that denial of the premise would result in a ridiculous conclusion, against the evidence of our senses.^{[5]} The second example is a mathematical proof by contradiction (also known as an indirect proof^{[6]}), which argues that the denial of the premise would result in a logical contradiction (there is a "smallest" number and yet there is a number smaller than it).^{[7]}

*Reductio ad absurdum* was used throughout Greek philosophy. The earliest example of a *reductio* argument can be found in a satirical poem attributed to Xenophanes of Colophon (c. 570 – c. 475 BCE).^{[8]} Criticizing Homer's attribution of human faults to the gods, Xenophanes states that humans also believe that the gods' bodies have human form. But if horses and oxen could draw, they would draw the gods with horse and ox bodies.^{[9]} The gods cannot have both forms, so this is a contradiction. Therefore, the attribution of other human characteristics to the gods, such as human faults, is also false.

Greek mathematicians proved fundamental propositions using *reductio ad absurdum*. Euclid of Alexandria (mid-4th – mid-3rd centuries BCE) and Archimedes of Syracuse (c. 287 – c. 212 BCE) are two very early examples.^{[10]}

The earlier dialogues of Plato (424–348 BCE), relating the discourses of Socrates, raised the use of *reductio* arguments to a formal dialectical method (*elenchus*), also called the Socratic method.^{[11]} Typically, Socrates' opponent would make what would seem to be an innocuous assertion. In response, Socrates, via a step-by-step train of reasoning, bringing in other background assumptions, would make the person admit that the assertion resulted in an absurd or contradictory conclusion, forcing him to abandon his assertion and adopt a position of aporia.^{[6]}

The technique was also a focus of the work of Aristotle (384–322 BCE), particularly in his *Prior Analytics* where he referred to it as demonstration to the impossible (Greek: ἡ εἰς τὸ ἀδύνατον ἀπόδειξις, lit. "demonstration to the impossible", 62b).^{[4]}

Another example of this technique is found in the sorites paradox, where it was argued that if 1,000,000 grains of sand formed a heap, and removing one grain from a heap left it a heap, then a single grain of sand (or even no grains) forms a heap.^{[12]}

Much of Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophy centers on showing how various essentialist ideas have absurd conclusions through *reductio ad absurdum* arguments (known as *prasaṅga*, "consequence" in Sanskrit). In the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, Nāgārjuna's *reductio ad absurdum* arguments are used to show that any theory of substance or essence was unsustainable and therefore, phenomena (*dharmas*) such as change, causality, and sense perception were empty (*sunya*) of any essential existence. Nāgārjuna's main goal is often seen by scholars as refuting the essentialism of certain Buddhist Abhidharma schools (mainly *Vaibhasika*) which posited theories of *svabhava* (essential nature) and also the Hindu Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika schools which posited a theory of ontological substances (*dravyatas*).^{[13]}

In 13.5, Nagarjuna wishes to demonstrate consequences of the presumption that things essentially, or inherently, exist, pointing out that if a "young man" exists in himself then it follows he cannot grow old (because he would no longer be a "young man"). As we attempt to separate the man from his properties (youth), we find that everything is subject to momentary change, and are left with nothing beyond the merely arbitrary convention that such entities as "young man" depend upon.

- A thing itself does not change.
- Something different does not change.
- Because a young man does not grow old.
- And because an old man does not grow old either.
^{[14]}

Aristotle clarified the connection between contradiction and falsity in his principle of non-contradiction, which states that a proposition cannot be both true and false.^{[15]}^{[16]} That is, a proposition and its negation (not-*Q*) cannot both be true. Therefore, if a proposition and its negation can both be derived logically from a premise, it can be concluded that the premise is false. This technique, known as indirect proof or proof by contradiction,^{[6]} has formed the basis of *reductio ad absurdum* arguments in formal fields such as logic and mathematics.