Kurt Godel and the US Constitution

Godel was probably the greatest mathematical logician of the past century. He was also quite eccentric, having a Howard Hughes-like obsession with germs and that sort of thing.

Anyway, during his life he became a citizen of the United States. During the process, he was asked about the Constitution. As I understand, he then went off in a long diatribe about how the Constitution was worthless, having a logical contradiction(s?)/inconsistency within it. In fact, I have also heard that for several years he absolutely refused to become an American citizen for that very reason.

Does anyone here know any of the details of this? In particular, does anyone know what, specifically, in the Constitution he was referring to?

I have no knowledge on this topic, but seeing as how that never stops anyone…

Maybe after he proved his incompleteness theorem he realized that everything of sufficient complexity is inherently inconsistent so he decided to become a citizen?

It sounds like a made up story to me.

everything of
sufficient complexity is inherently inconsistent

Actually, his incompleteness didn’t prove that that the system would be inconsistent, but that it would be incomplete, not necessarily inconsistent–i.e., there would be theorems (truths) for which there were no proofs. (He also proved, however, that if a formal system can prove its own consistency, it is therefore inconsistent, which is what you’re getting at).

Anyway, I feel quite sure there is some truth to the Constitution story, I just don’t know of what nature. I have read of it in many reliable sources, unfortunately none of which I can specifically recall at the moment, other than that they were respectable, dependable sources.

BTW, ignore that phrase at the beginning of my previous post. I cut and pasted it so I would remember what I was referring to, and forgot to delete it. Sorry.

Here is some information:


Thanks, Gilligan! Definitely an interesting link!

I don’t know if this was what Godel was talking about (it doesn’t sound like it based on the articel Gilligan cited) but some logicians argue that the Constitution cannot have any authority.

Essentially, the Constitution was held to be a legal authority once it was ratified by nine states. But where does it say that the ratification of nine states is sufficient grounds to declare the Constitution valid? In Article VII of the Constitution. Which of course had no legal authority until it was ratified.

The issue is not whether nine states was sufficient as opposed to ten or thirteen. Even if the delegates had required the Constitution to have the unanimous approval of every person living in the United States, how do you establish unanimous approval as sufficient grounds to establish validity? From a logical standpoint it’s no different than me saying “everything I write is true” and then citing the fact that I wrote it as proof that it’s true.

That’s my beef with most defenders of biblical text. Their only support is more biblical text. And they refuse to understand that this is a baseless, circular argument!

“The bible is infallible, the true word of God.”

“How do you know this?”

“It says so right here.”



For a similar view of the incident at which Gõdel purportedly expressed his view, see

This is a link off a site that talks about many of Gõdel’s logical criticisms


That s/b Gödel, of course, not Gõdel.

“Essentially, the Constitution was held to be a legal authority once it was ratified by nine states. But where does it say that the ratification of nine states is sufficient grounds to declare the Constitution valid? In Article VII of the Constitution. Which of course had no legal authority until it was ratified.”

Just like a contract has no force until you AGREE to it. The Constitution no more purports to provide “logic” as the source of its validity than your obligation to pay for the gas you pump derives from the heavens.

Little Nemo wrote:

I’m not sure if that’s technically a reductio ad absurdam or some other logical fallicy, but a little thought will quickly show that an equivalent argument can be made about any legal structure.

E.g., Great Britain has no written constitution, having a legal system that operates mostly on precedent. So on what authority was the first case on a particular issue decided? Probably just the good (or otherwise) judgement of the judge/magistrate/lord ruling at the time. There can be no logical basis, and so the whole rule of law is invalidated.

There’s a simple answer here: formal logic is not at all the same thing as law, and the legitimacy of one has very little to do with the other.

I’d like to see a formal logic legal system, particular its axioms.

Hmh, let Q = “Thou shalt not kill”
and X = “Covet not thy neighbor’s ass.”
(two pages of equations deleted)
Therefore, Supreme Court Justices should be appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and serve for life.

…but when you get blue, and you’ve lost all your dreams, there’s nothing like a campfire and a can of beans!

Wouldn’t that be covered under the commandment against adultery? :wink:

Arguments like these are kind of useless. It’s akin to saying we’ll all die anyway so everything we do is meaningless so let’s kill ourselves now and spare the trouble.

And for 99.99% of us it’s true. But life may have a point we just don’t see…Or maybe not

See how these things get started.

I’m not saying that the Constitution doesn’t have any validity. I’m saying it’s possible to argue that it’s validity cannot be proven in a formally logical method. And while I don’t know if Godel ever made this argument, I feel it would be consistent with his views as I understand them. My previous post was not intended as a general comment on the Constitution, it was specifically addressed to the question asked in the OP.