Practical Inference—A Formal Analysis

  • Sjoerd ZwartEmail author
  • Maarten Franssen
  • Peter Kroes
Part of the Philosophy of Engineering and Technology book series (POET, volume 31)


Most engineering reasoning in practice is about how to achieve some predetermined end. Despite its paramount importance, this form of reasoning has hardly been investigated in the literature.a The aim of this paper is therefore to explore the question to what extent technical norms can be said to have a truth-value, and under what conditions practical inferences are deductively valid. We take technical norms to be sentences of the form ‘If you want A, and you are in a situation B, then you ought to do X’. Von Wright’s standard example of making a hut habitable is our paradigm for practical inferences, where an obligation to act is deduced from an intention to realize an end, and an empirical constraint on how this end can be achieved. Our instrument of analysis is dynamic logic (PDL), since actions are aimed at changing the world. PDL already suffices to provide truth-conditions for technical norms. To accommodate the obligation in practical inferences we draw on John Jules Meyer’s deontic version of PDL. By paraphrasing ‘person P wants’ with ‘person P imposes an obligation on herself,’ we can give a plausible definition of the validity of practical inferences. In the discussion section, we address the issues of the reliability instead of truth-value of technical norms, and of the defeasibility of practical inferences as they occur in engineering practice.


Engineering means-end knowledge From intentions and constraints to obligations to act Practical inferences and logical validity Technical norms and truth conditions Deontic dynamic logic semantics 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Delft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Eindhoven University of TechnologyEindhovenThe Netherlands

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