One thing that must be understood is that this law cannot be proven in the same way that the laws of positive rational and integral arithmetic can be. The reason for this is that negatives lack any "external" (external to mathematics, *ie.* pre-axiomatic, intuitive, conceptuel, empirical, physical, *etc.*) definition.

For example. Without even getting into the Peano axioms, I can prove that, where $a$ and $b$ are positive integers, $ab=ba$. Indeed, $ab$ is just the process of taking $a$ sets of $b$. Take one element from each of these sets, thus forming a set of $a$ elements. Repeat this $b$ times: you will clearly use up exactly all of the elements and obtain $b$ sets of $a$ elements, in other words, $ba$. Similar informal (but entirely convincing, reasonable, and I would say irrefutable) reasoning can be used to demonstrate the rules for manipulating positive fractions, say.

Notice that in the above paragraph I used the fact that both positive integers and positive integer multiplication have pre-axiomatic, "physical" definitions.

Ask someone why the product of two negatives is positive, and the best they can do is *explain*, not *prove*. "Well, negative kind of means 'opposite', so doing the opposite twice means doing the usual, ie positive" does not constitute a proof, but merely an explanation serving to make the accepted mathematical axiom less surprising. Another common one begins with "we would like the usual properties of arithmetic to hold, so assume they do...", but then it remains to be explained why it's so important that the usual laws of arithmetic hold. Euler himself, in an early chapter of his textbook on algebra, gave the following *supremely* questionable justification. After justifying $(-a)b=-(ab)$ by analogies with debts, he writes:

It remains to resolve the case in which - is multiplied by -; or, for example, -a by -b. It is evident, at first sight, with regard to the letters, that the product will be ab; but it is doubtful whether the sign + or the sign - is to be placed before it, all we know is, that it must be one or the other of these signs. Now, I say that it cannot be the sign -: for -a by +b gives -ab, and -a by -b cannot produce the same result as -a by +b...

With no disrespect to Euler (especially consdiering this was intended as an introductory textbook), I think we can agree that this is a pretty philosophically dubious argument.

The reason it is impossible is because there is no pre-axiomatic definition for what a negative number or negative multiplication really is. Oh, you could probably come up with one involving opposite "directions", and notions of symmetry, but it would be quite artificial and not at all obviously "the best" definition. In my opinion, negatives are ultimately best understood as purely abstract objects. It so happens - and this is quite myseterious - that these utterly abstract laws of calculation lead to physically meaningful results. This was nicely expressed in 1778 by the mathematician John Playfair, when addressing the then controversial issues of negative and complex numbers:

Here then is a paradox which remains to be explained. If the operations of this imaginary arithmetic are unintelligible, why are they not altogether useless? Is investigation an art so mechanical, that it may be conducted by certain manual operations? Or is truth so easily discovered, that intelligence is not necessary to give success to our researches?

Quoted in *Negative Math: How Mathematical Rules Can be Positively Bent* by Alberto A. Martínez.

One way of approching the problem is with the idea that *negative numbers are a different name for subtraction*. The differences between subtraction and addition force us, if we reject negatives, to create many different rules covering all the different possibilities ($a - b$, $b - a$, and $a + b$, and if the particular theorem or problem involves more than two variables, the difficulty is compounded further...). The idea of negatives could be described as the insight that rather than having two operations and one type of number, *we can have one operation and two types of number*. Indeed, if you start with some perfectly physically meaningful axioms about subtraction, you will find that the $(-1)(-1)=1$ law seems to be implicit within them. Hint: starting from the very reasonable axioms $a(b-c)=ab-ac\ ,\ a - (b - c) = a - b + c$, consider the product $(a-b)(c-d)$.

But even that explanation doesn't altogether satisfy me. I've become convinced that my education cheated me on how deep an idea negative numbers are, and I expect to remain puzzled by them for many years. Anyway, I hope some of the above is useful to someone.