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Deduction and Novelty

Deduction and Novelty

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Published by DannyFred
It is often claimed that the conclusion of a deductively valid argument is contained in its premises. Popper refuted this claim when he showed that an empirical theory can be expected always to have logical consequences that transcend the current understanding of the theory. This implies that no formalisation of an empirical theory will enable the derivation of all its logical consequences. I call this result ‘Popper-incompleteness.’ This result appears to be consistent with the view of deductive reasoning as a process of unfurling the content of the premises; but I suggest that the result about validity impugns this theory of reasoning.
It is often claimed that the conclusion of a deductively valid argument is contained in its premises. Popper refuted this claim when he showed that an empirical theory can be expected always to have logical consequences that transcend the current understanding of the theory. This implies that no formalisation of an empirical theory will enable the derivation of all its logical consequences. I call this result ‘Popper-incompleteness.’ This result appears to be consistent with the view of deductive reasoning as a process of unfurling the content of the premises; but I suggest that the result about validity impugns this theory of reasoning.

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Published by: DannyFred on Mar 29, 2011
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05/10/2011

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DEDUCTION AND NOVELTY
1
Danny Frederick
*
 
Slightly expanded version of a paper that was published in
The Reasoner,
5/4: 56-57(2011)
 
The interesting interview with Alan Musgrave (
The Reasoner 
, 5.1) contained muchthat is worthy of discussion. Here I want to comment only on Musgrave’s claim that“the conclusion of a valid deductive argument is contained in its premises and saysnothing new” (p.2). The claim has been a commonplace in discussions of deductionfor centuries. An alternative way of making the claim is to say that every deductivelyvalid argument is a petitio principii. This is a formulation which Musgrave himselfechoes when he says: “Non-circular valid deductive arguments for P simply beg thequestion in a less obvious way [than do blatantly circular ones]” (p.2). However,notwithstanding its general acceptance, this hoary claim about deductive validity isfalse. Ironically, it was Musgrave’s teacher, Karl Popper, who refuted it.The hoary claim about deductive
validity 
is associated with an equally hoarytheory of deductive
reasoning 
, which is found more or less explicitly in bothempiricist and rationalist philosophers of the modern period and which is still populartoday. The hoary theory says that a deductive reasoner arrives at a conclusion of anargument by analysing the content of its premises. This content is supposed to beaccessible to the reasoner, at least upon reflection; indeed, it is often supposed to bemade up of ideas in his mind, or concepts grasped by him, so that the ideas orconcepts contained in the conclusion are extracted from those that make up the
*
 
Webpage:http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick, Email:dannyfrederick77@gmail.com
 
 
DEDUCTION AND NOVELTY
2
premises. This hoary theory of deductive reasoning may seem to entail the hoaryclaim about deductive validity: for if the reasoner arrives at a valid conclusion byunfurling the content of a set of premises, it may seem that, in a valid argument, theconclusion must already be discoverable in the premises and thus say nothing new.But we will see that this apparent entailment does not hold.Popper refuted the hoary claim about deductive validity in the following way(
Unended Quest 
, Glasgow, Fontana, 1976, pp. 25-28). Let ‘
’ stand for Newton’stheory of gravitation and let ‘
’ stand for Einstein’s theory of gravitation. Since
isincompatible with
, the following argument is deductively valid:
Therefore, not-
E.
 But the conclusion of this argument would certainly have said something new inNewton’s time. Newton could not foresee Einstein’s theory; and none of hiscontemporaries could have arrived at a statement of the negation of Einstein’s theorysimply by unfurling the implicitly known content of Newton’s theory.Watkins offers a recipe for constructing somewhat similar examples. “Takesome powerful new scientific theory which has recently led to a striking newprediction. Formulate all the premises used in the derivation of this prediction.Among these there will almost certainly be a truism known long before the newtheory was invented. Call this
, call the theory together with all the other premises
,and call the prediction
. Then an impressive implication of the truism
is: if
then
” (
Hobbes’s System of Ideas 
, second edition, London, Hutchinson, 1973, p.9). But ifwe go back to a time before the powerful new scientific theory had been invented,
 
DEDUCTION AND NOVELTY
3
anyone announcing the deductively valid conclusion, if b then c, from the premise,
,would certainly have been saying something new.Popper distinguishes between the objective content of a theory and the part ofthat content that is available to a particular reasoner in a particular situation. Theobjective content includes each of those propositions that would be a deductivelyvalid conclusion from the theory as premise. A great deal of this content will beinaccessible to someone who has learned the theory: it can become available to himonly piecemeal as new theories are discovered. For example, the negation of
ispart of the objective content of
, even though it is not part of the content of
thatwas accessible to anyone before Einstein came up with
. Thus, Newton did not,and could not, know the complete objective content of his own theory. Popper says,ironically, “
we never know what we are talking about 
” (op. cit., p. 27). This is a kind ofincompleteness: at every time there are some deductively valid consequences of atheory that cannot be formulated, and thus cannot be formally derived from thetheory, by reasoners at that time. We could call this ‘Popper-incompleteness’ (to coina term).Given this distinction between the objective content of a theory and the part ofthat content available to a particular thinker in a particular situation, we couldconsistently retain the hoary theory of deductive reasoning while rejecting the hoaryclaim about deductive validity. For we could maintain that:(i) any deductively valid conclusion from a set of premises
to which 
 
we can reason 
 
deductively 
must be contained in that part of the content of thepremises that is already available to us;

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