, Volume 190, Issue 13, pp 2573–2593 | Cite as

The epistemology of absence-based inference

  • Nikolaj Jang Lee Linding Pedersen
  • Jesper Kallestrup


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 



We are grateful to Axel Gelfert, Sandy Goldberg, and two anonymous reviewers for very helpful comments.


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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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