Unit Refutations and Horn Sets

Lawrence Joseph Henschen, L. Wos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


The key concepts for this automated theorem-proving paper are those of Horn set and strictly-unit refutation. A Horn set is a set of clauses such that none of its members contains more than one positive literal. A strictly-unit refutation is a proof by contradiction in which no step is justified by applying a rule of inference to a set of clauses all of which contain more than one literal. Horn sets occur in many fields of mathematics such as the theory of groups, rings, Moufang loops, and Henkin models. The usual translation into first-order predicate calculus of the axioms of these and many other fields yields a set of Horn clauses. The striking feature of the Horn property for finite sets of clauses is that its presence or absence can be determined by inspection. Thus, the determination of the applicability of the theorems and procedures of this paper is immediate. In Theorem 1 it is proved that, if S is an unsatisfiable Horn set, there exists a strictly-unit refutation of S employing binary resolution alone, thus eliminating the need for factoring; moreover, one of the immediate ancestors of each step of the refutation is in fact a positive unit clause. A theorem similar to Theorem 1 for paramodulation-based inference systems is proven in Theorem 3 but with the inclusion of factoring as an inference rule. In Section 3 two reduction procedures are discussed. For the first, Chang's splitting, a rule is provided to guide both the choice of clauses and the way in which to split. The second reduction procedure enables one to refute a Horn set by refuting but one of a corresponding family of simpler subproblems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)590-605
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the ACM (JACM)
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 1974


  • Horn set
  • factoring
  • first-order logic
  • paramodulation
  • resolution
  • theorem-proving

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Information Systems
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Artificial Intelligence


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