The problem of basic deductive inference

Abstract

Knowledge can be transmitted by a valid deductive inference. If I know that p, and I know that if p then q, then I can infer that q, and I can thereby come to know that q. What feature of a valid deductive inference enables it to transmit knowledge? In some cases, it is a proof of validity that grounds the transmission of knowledge. If the subject can prove that her inference follows a valid rule, then her inference transmits knowledge. However, this only pushes the question back to the inference that was made in this proof. What feature of that inference enables it to transmit knowledge? A vicious regress looms here. Every proof requires a valid inference, and every valid inference must follow at least one rule of inference. So every proof must follow at least one rule of inference. Therefore not every valid inference that transmits knowledge can acquire this power through a proof, on pain of vicious infinite regress. So it must be possible to transmit knowledge by making an inference that follows an underived rule. A deductive inference that follows an underived rule is what I will call a basic deductive inference. It must be possible to transmit knowledge by making a basic deductive inference. But how is this possible? What feature of a basic deductive inference gives it this power to transmit knowledge?

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Gordon Barnes
State University of New York (SUNY)

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