, Volume 190, Issue 13, pp 2573–2593

The epistemology of absence-based inference

  • Nikolaj Jang Lee Linding Pedersen
  • Jesper Kallestrup

DOI: 10.1007/s11229-013-0255-7

Cite this article as:
Pedersen, N.J.L.L. & Kallestrup, J. Synthese (2013) 190: 2573. doi:10.1007/s11229-013-0255-7


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 \(\sim p\). 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 \(\sim p\). 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.


Fallacy of ignorance Epistemic coverage Absence-based inference Absence-based belief Sanford Goldberg Alethic principles Evidential principles Absence of evidence Evidence of absence Reliabilism 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nikolaj Jang Lee Linding Pedersen
    • 1
  • Jesper Kallestrup
    • 2
  1. 1.Underwood International College, Yonsei University International Campus, Veritas Hall B, 434IncheonSouth Korea
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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