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A critique of the foundations of Hoare style programming logics


Much recent discussion in computing journals has been devoted to arguments about the feasibility and usefulness of formal verification methods. Too little attention has been given to precise criticism of specific proposed systems for reasoning about programs. Whether such systems are to be used for formal verification, by hand or automatically, or as a rigorous foundation for informal reasoning, it is essential that they be logically sound. Several popular rules in the Hoare language are, in fact, not sound. These rules have been accepted because they have not been subjected to sufficiently strong standards of correctness. This paper attempts to clarify the different technical definitions of correctness of a logic, to show that only the strongest of these definitions is acceptable for Hoare logic, and to correct some of the unsound rules that have appeared in the literature. The corrected rules are given merely to show that it is possible to do so. Convenient and elegant rules for reasoning about certain programming constructs will probably require a more flexible notation than Hoare's.

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