The Epistemic Significance of Valid Inference – A Model-Theoretic Approach

In Sorin Costreie & Mircea Dumitru (eds.), Meaning and Truth. Bucharest: PRO Universitaria Publishing. pp. 11-36 (2015)
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Abstract
The problem analysed in this paper is whether we can gain knowledge by using valid inferences, and how we can explain this process from a model-theoretic perspective. According to the paradox of inference (Cohen & Nagel 1936/1998, 173), it is logically impossible for an inference to be both valid and its conclusion to possess novelty with respect to the premises. I argue in this paper that valid inference has an epistemic significance, i.e., it can be used by an agent to enlarge his knowledge, and this significance can be accounted in model-theoretic terms. I will argue first that the paradox is based on an equivocation, namely, it arises because logical containment, i.e., logical implication, is identified with epistemological containment, i.e., the knowledge of the premises entails the knowledge of the conclusion. Second, I will argue that a truth-conditional theory of meaning has the necessary resources to explain the epistemic significance of valid inferences. I will explain this epistemic significance starting from Carnap’s semantic theory of meaning and Tarski’s notion of satisfaction. In this way I will counter (Prawitz 2012b)’s claim that a truth-conditional theory of meaning is not able to account the legitimacy of valid inferences, i.e., their epistemic significance.
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