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In mathematics, Hilbert’s program, formulated by German mathematician David Hilbert, was a proposed solution to the foundational crisis of mathematics, when early attempts to clarify the foundations of mathematics were found to suffer from paradoxes and inconsistencies. As a solution, Hilbert proposed to ground all existing theories to a finite, complete set of axioms, and provide a proof that these axioms were consistent. Hilbert proposed that the consistency of more complicated systems, such as real analysis, could be proven in terms of simpler systems. Ultimately, the consistency of all of mathematics could be reduced to basic arithmetic.

However, some argue that Gödel’s incompleteness theorems showed in 1931 that Hilbert’s program was unattainable. In his first theorem, Gödel showed that any consistent system with a computable set of axioms which is capable of expressing arithmetic can never be complete: it is possible to construct a statement that can be shown to be true, but that cannot be derived from the formal rules of the system. In his second theorem, he showed that such a system could not prove its own consistency, so it certainly cannot be used to prove the consistency of anything stronger with certainty. This refuted Hilbert’s assumption that a finitistic system could be used to prove the consistency of itself, and therefore anything else.