Refutation by contradiction is the “basic” method of formal proof for proving a negation: if assuming $P$ leads to a contradiction, then we conclude $\neg P$. It is the introduction rule for the connective of negation in intuitionistic logic; if $\neg P$ is defined as $P\to \bot$ (the function type from $P$ to false), then it follows from the introduction rule for implication.
Refutation by contradiction is also called proof of negation, but this can be confusing because there may be other “indirect” ways to prove a negation.
Rarely one finds logics that have a basic notion of “refutation of $A$” that is distinct from (though generally closely related to) a “proof of $\neg A$” (Nelson 1949). In that case, refutation by contradiction is more precisely a method of refuting $A$ by deriving a contradiction from an assumption of $A$, which might be distinguished from other more “direct” ways of refuting $A$ (for example, a refutation of a universally quantified statement $\forall x.B(x)$ that exhibits an explicit counterexample, i.e., a term $t$ together with a refutation of $B(t)$).
Andrej Bauer, Proof of negation and proof by contradiction 2010
E. G. K. López-Escobar, Refutability and Elementary Number Theory , Indag. Math. 34 1972 pp.362-374.
David Nelson, Constructible Falsity, The Journal of Symbolic Logic, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Mar., 1949), pp. 16-26. (jstor)
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