, Volume 169, Issue 1, pp 1-18
Date: 19 Apr 2012

What is inference?

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Introduction

In some previous work, I tried to give a concept-based account of the nature of our entitlement to certain very basic inferences (see the papers in Part III of Boghossian 2008b). In this previous work, I took it for granted, along with many other philosophers, that we understood well enough what it is for a person to infer.

In this paper, I turn to thinking about the nature of inference itself. This topic is of great interest in its own right and surprisingly understudied by philosophers. A correct understanding of inference promises to shed light on a number of important topics. In particular, it threatens to undermine the sort of concept-based story about entitlement to which I had previously been attracted.

Preliminaries

We will need to spend some time making sure that we zero in on the topic I mean to be discussing.

By “inference” I mean reasoning with beliefs. Specifically, I mean the sort of “reasoned change in view” that Harman (1986) discusses, in which you start off wi

An earlier version of this paper was presented as a talk at the Pacific Division Meeting of the APA in San Diego in April of 2011, with John Broome and Crispin Wright serving as commentators. I am very grateful to the members of that audience, as well as to audiences at the Universities of Cambridge and Geneva, and to David James Barnett, Sinan Dogramaci, and Paul Horwich for comments and feedback.
The author owes a very special debt of gratitude to his two distinguished commentators, not only for their feedback on this particular paper, but for conversations and writings that have greatly influenced his thinking on these issues. Crispin and the author have been discussing these topics for many years. More recently, the author have been greatly stimulated by conversations with John Broome and by reading bits of his manuscript in progress, Rationality Through Reasoning. As will be evident, the present paper is part of an extended dialogue with both of these philosophers.