The epistemology of absence-based inference

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Abstract

Our main aim in this paper is to contribute towards a better understanding of the epistemology of absence-based inferences. Many absence-based inferences are classified as fallacies. There are exceptions, however. We investigate what features make absence-based inferences epistemically good or reliable. In Section 2 we present Sanford Goldberg's account of the reliability of absence-based inference, introducing the central notion of epistemic coverage. In Section 3 we approach the idea of epistemic coverage through a comparison of alethic and evidential principles. The Equivalence Schema-a well-known alethic principle-says that it is true that p if and only if p. We take epistemic coverage to underwrite a suitably qualified evidential analogue of the Equivalence Schema: for a high proportion of values of p, subject S has evidence that p due to her reliance on source S* if and only if p. We show how this evidential version of the Equivalence Schema suffices for the reliability of certain absence-based inferences. Section 4 is dedicated to exploring consequences of the Evidential Equivalence Schema. The slogan 'absence of evidence is evidence of absence' has received a lot of bad press. More elaborately, what has received a lot of bad press is something like the following idea: absence of evidence sufficiently good to justify belief in p is evidence sufficiently good to justify belief in ~ p. A striking consequence of the Evidential Equivalence Schema is that absence of evidence sufficiently good to justify belief in p is evidence sufficiently good to justify belief in ~ p. We establish this claim in Section 4 and show how this supports the reliability of an additional type of absence-based inference. Section 4 immediately raises the following question: how can we make philosophically good sense of the idea that absence of evidence is evidence of absence? We address this question in Section 5. Section 6 contains some summary remarks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2573-2593
Number of pages21
JournalSynthese
Volume190
Issue number13
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Sep 1

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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences(all)

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