You are on page 1of 8

Logical Consequence

‘The intuitive conception’

Owen Griffiths


1 Theories of logical consequence

Logical consequence is the central concept in philosophical logic. It is used in at
least the following ways:
1. to test the validity of natural language arguments

2. as part of mathematical theories

3. as a constraint on semantic theories

A theory of logical consequence should (ideally) provide:
1. an intuitive understanding of logical consequence

2. a precise definition of logical consequence

3. an argument that this definition succeeds in capturing the intuitive under-

For example, here’s a standard picture of logical consequence:
1. The intuitive concept of logical consequence is a combination of modal and
formal characteristics.

(I) Φ is a logical consequence of Γ iff it is not possible for the members of Γ

to be true and Φ false, and this is because of the meaning of the logical
vocabulary in Γ and Φ

2. The precise definition of logical consequence is model-theoretic:

(M) φ is a model-theoretic consequence of γ iff every model of γ is a model

of φ

3. (M) captures (N) because the two are co-extensive

In this class and the next, we’ll consider the intuitive character of logical conse-
quence. Then we’ll look at some precise definitions (the model-theoretic account
and its major rivals), and then we’ll consider the relations between the two.

2 Logical consequence as modal
One strong intuition is that logical consequence is a modal relation:

(N) Φ is a logical consequence of Γ iff it is not possible for the members of Γ to be

true and Φ false.

In ancient logic:

A syllogism is a discourse in which, certain things having been supposed,

something different from those things supposed results of necessity be-
cause those things are so’ (Aristotle, Prior Analytics: Book 1, ch. 2)

Similarly Chrysippus: ‘A man is running’ implies ‘An animal is moving’ (see Gould
1970: 80-1) .
In medieval logic, necessary truth-preservation was the distinctive feature of
logical consequence. E.g. Buridan, The Treatise on Consequences:

A consequence which is acceptable in any terms is called formal, keeping

the form the same (§1.4.2)
A consequence for which not every equiform sentence would be an ac-
ceptable consequence is called material (§1.4.3)

By this definition, ‘a man runs; so an animal runs’ is valid.

This is an early example of the formal/ material validity distinction.

Formal An argument is formally valid iff it has a form all of whose instances are

Material An argument is materially valid iff it is necessarily truth-preserving but

not formally valid.

In modern logic:

The most important feature of logical consequence, as we ordinarily un-

derstand it, is a modal relation that holds between implying sentence
and the sentence implied. (Etchemendy 1990: 81)

validity is a question of the impossibility of true premises and false con-

clusion for whatever reason (Read 1994: 264)

one of the oldest features determining properly logical consequence is

its necessity. The truth of the premises of a valid argument necessitates
the truth of the conclusion of the argument (Beall & Restall 2006: 14)

3 Logical consequence as non-modal
Many have taken material truth-preservation to be sufficient for logical consequence,
without a modal requirement.
In the 4th-century BC, Philo of Megara took an argument to be valid just if it
is not the case that the premises are true and conclusion false, e.g. ‘It is light’ is
a Philonian consequence of ‘It is day’ (see Gould 1970: 78-82 and Kneale & Kneale
1962: 128-38).

Philo Φ is a Philonean consequence of Γ iff it is not the case that all members of
Γ are true and Φ is false

Philonean consequence is picked up by Russell:

In order that it may be valid to infer q from p, it is necessary only that

p should be true and that the proposition “not-p or q” should be true
... what is required further is only required for the practical feasibility
of the inference. (Russell 1919: 153)

An especially important figures in this non-modal tradition is Bolzano.

propositions M , N , O, ... are deducible from propositions A, B, C, D,

... with respect to variable parts i, j, ..., if every class of ideas whose
substitution i, j, ..., makes all of A, B, C, D, ... true, also makes all of
M , N , O, ... true’ (Bolzano 1837: §155)

universally satisfiable propositions could also be said to be true by virtue

of their kind or form (Bolzano 1837: §147)

Bolzano adds that the ‘follows of necessity’ in Aristotle ‘can hardly be interpreted in
any other way than this: that the conclusion becomes true whenever the premises are
true’. This is because ‘there can be no doubt that Aristotle assumed that the relation
of deducibility can also hold between false propostions’ (Bolzano 1837: §155n1).

4 Logical consequence as formal

Tarski is another philosopher who take logical consequence to be primarily a formal

we are concerned with the concept of logical, i.e. formal, consequence,

and thus with a relation which is uniquely determined by the form of
the sentences between which it holds (1936: 414).

Etchemendy and Sher attempt to read modality into Tarski.

The truth of the premises must somehow guarantee the truth of the con-
clusion. It is this guarantee of truth-preservation that gives rise to the
familiar modal descriptions of the consequence relation. ... Tarski him-
self, not surprisingly, recognized this guarantee to be the central feature

of the “ordinary concept” of consequence (Etchemendy 1990: 82-3)

One way to interpret Tarski’s first intuitive consideration of logical con-

sequence is as follows: Assume σ is a logical consequence of Γ. Then
it is impossible that all the sentences of Γ are true and σ is false (Sher
1996: 654)
Why might they think this?
it can be proved, on the basis of this definition, that every consequence
of true sentences must be true (Tarski 1936: 417, my italics)
But this ‘must’ just indicates that the scheme holds universally (see Kneale 1961: 96-
7). Further, as Smiley (1998: §5) notes, ‘in keeping with the positivism of his day,
Tarski wanted nothing to do with modality’.
A more recent example is Quine:
First we define a grammatical form as logically valid if all sentences of
that form are true. Next we define a sentence as logically true if it has
a logically valid grammatical form. Finally we say that one sentence
logically implies another if the conditional sentence, formed of these sen-
tences in that order by applying ‘if’ to the one and ‘then’ to the other,
is logically true. (Quine 1980: 17)
Generally, MacFarlane uses the label logical hylomorphism for ‘the tradition of
characterizing logic as distinctively formal ’ (2000: 6). Other examples are Kant and
Frege (see MacFarlane 2000: 20-2).

5 Logical consequence as non-formal

A prominent tradition rejects logical hylomorphism by arguing that material validity
is equally important, e.g.
1. Ian is a bachelor; so Ian is unmarried

2. The cup contains water; so the cup contains H2 O

3. The ball is red; so the ball is coloured

We have seen that Chrysippus and Philo would accept these as valid.
Similarly, King writes that
Mediaeval logic is also nonformal. That is, mediaeval logic deals with in-
ferences and assertions that do not hold in virtue of their formal features
as well as those that do.’ (King 2001: 135)
Other medieval authors who reject logical hylomorphism are Henry Hopton, Robert
Fland, Richard Billingham and Ralph Strode (see Boh 2001: 155-6) as well as Ock-
ham and the Pseudo-Scotus (see Read 2013).
Finally, in modern logic:

there is little reason to think that form has much to do with logic at all
(Etchemendy 1983: 334)

the belief that every valid argument is valid in virtue of form is a myth
(Read 1994: 264)

“x > y” entails “y < x”, but not as a matter of form (Davidson

1967: 125)

6 Other intuitions
1. Relevance: the conclusion must be relevant to the premises to rule out e.g. ex
falso quodlibet

2. A priori knowability: if Γ entails φ then it should be a priori knowable that Γ

entails φ. This pulls apart from necessary truth-preservation on the assump-
tion of Kripkean necessary a a posteriori truths.

3. Existential commitment: logic should not commit us to existence of any ob-

jects. This rules out any logics that are not inclusive (see Quine 1954) or
universal free (see e.g. Meyer & Lambert 1968).

4. Axiomatisability: the logical consequence relation should be axiomatisable.

This would rule out second-order logic (with full semantics).

7 Tarskian consequence
‘The intuitive concept of logical consequence’ is a myth: there is a historical mess of
intuitions, all of which have been challenged by philosophers central to the tradition.
Smiley expresses the situation well:

The idea of one proposition’s following from other – of their implying

it – is central to argument. It is, however, an idea that comes with a
history attached to it, and those who blithely appeal to an ‘intuitive’
or ‘pre-theoretic’ idea of consequence are likely to got hold of just one
strand in a string of diverse theories. (Smiley 1998: §0)

Tarski was aware of this, and recent authors would do well to remember it:

The concept of logical consequence is one whose introduction into the

field of strict formal investigation was not a matter of arbitrary decision
on the part of this or that investigator; in defining this concept; efforts
were made to adhere to the common usage of the language of everyday
life (Tarski 1936: 409)

The common concept of consequence is in no way superior to other con-

cepts of everyday language. Its extension is not sharply bounded and its

usage fluctuates. Any attempt to bring into harmony all possible vague,
sometimes contradictory, tendencies which are connected with the use of
this concept, is certainly doomed to failure. We must reconcile ourselves
from the start to the fact that every precise definition of this concept
will show arbitrary features to a greater or less degree (Tarski 1936: 409)
There are several problems presented here:
1. There is no single intuitive concept of logical consequence
2. The intuitions that we have about logical consequence are contradictory
3. The inuitions that we have about logical consequence are vague
1. is a problem, since it shows that our target is unclear. 2. is a problem because
we cannot hope to account for all intuitions about consequence. 3. is a problem
because, even if we take one strand of our intuitions, its extension is vague. But the
extension of precise notions is not vague.
Tarski’s response is to accept that there is no one intuitive notion, but instead
take one of the major intuitions – the thought that logic is formal – and develop it
so that it does not have a vague extension.
Let’s begin to work towards Tarski’s concept of formal consequence. He begins
his 1936 paper by noting that deductive approaches cannot be satisfactory, due to
the ω rule:
(ω) P (0), P (1), ...; so for all natural numbers n, P (n)
intuitively it seems certain that the universal sentence A follows in the
usual sense from the totality of particular sentences A0 , A1 , ..., An ... how-
ever much we supplement the ordinary rules of inference by new purely
structural rules, it is possible to construct sentences which follow, in
the usual sense, from the theorems of this theory, but which nevertheless
cannot be proved in this theory on the basis of accepted rules of inference
(Tarski 1936: 411–2)
This criticism has generally been accepted by proponents of proof-theoretic
consequence today, who instead support the more sophisticated project of proof-
theoretic semantics (a subject for a later class).
Instead, we should be concerned ‘with the concept of logical, i.e. formal, conse-
quence, and thus with a relation which is uniquely determined by the form of the
sentences between which it holds’ (1936: 414).
This relation ‘cannot be affected by replacing the designations of the objects
referred to in these sentences by the designations of any other objects’ (1936: 415).
(F) If, in the sentences of class K and in the sentence X, the constants – apart from
purely logical constants – are replaced by any other constants (like signs being
everywhere replaced by like signs), and if we denote the class of sentences thus
obtained from K by K 0 , and the sentence obtained from X by X 0 , then the
sentence X 0 must be true provided only that all sentences of the class K 0 are
true. (Tarski 1936: 415)

Tarski then notes that (F) is a necessary condition for logical consequence but cannot
be sufficient because the language may be expressively weak.
The notions of satisfaction of a sentential function and of model provide Tarski
with the solution to this problem.

(T) The sentence X follows logically from the sentences of the class K if and only
if every model of the class K is also a model of the sentence K.

Satisfaction is a semantic relation that holds between objects (or sequences of ob-
jects) and sentential functions (sentences containing free variables, which we would
today call open sentences). In particular, an object (or sequence of objects) satisfies
an open sentence just if the result of assigning to each free variable, taken in order,
the object, taken in order, is a true sentence.

One of the concepts which can be defined in terms of the concept of

satisfaction is the concept of model. Let us assume that in the language
we are considering certain variables correspond to every extra-logical
constant, and in such a way that every sentence becomes a sentential
function if the constants in it are replaced by the corresponding variables.
Let L be any class of sentences. We replace all extra-logical constants
which occur in the sentences belonging to L by corresponding variables,
like constants being replaced by like variables, and unlike by unlike.
In this way we obtain a class L0 of sentential functions. An arbitrary
sequence of objects which satisfies every sentential function of the class
L0 will be called a model or realization of the class L of sentences (Tarski
1936: 416-7).

For Tarski, we form a sentence’s sentential function by keeping the logical constants
unchanged and replacing the non-logical constants uniformly by variables (same
constants to the same variable, distinct constants to distinct variables) of the ap-
propriate sort. A Tarskian model of a set of sentences is a sequence of objects that
satisfies the sentential function of each member of that set.

Beall J. & Restall G. 2006. Logical Pluralism. Oxford: Clarendon.
Boh I. 2001. Consequence in the post- Ockham period. In M. Yrjönsuuri (ed), Me-
dieval Formal Logic, 147–82. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Bolzano B. 1837. Wissenschaftslehre. Oxford: Blackwell, 1972. Refs. to 1972 partial
trans. by R. George, Theory of Science.
Davidson D. 1967. The logical form of action sentences. In Essays on Actions and
Events, 105–22. Oxford: Clarendon. Refs to 1980 reprint.
Etchemendy J. 1983. The doctrine of logic as form. Linguistics and Philosophy 6:
———. 1990. The Concept of Logical Consequence. Cambridge MA: Harvard.
Gould J.B. 1970. The Philosophy of Chrysippus. vol. XVII of Philosophia Antiqua.

King P. 2001. Consequence as inference: Mediaeval proof theory 1300-1350. In Me-
dieval Formal Logic, 117–46. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Kneale W. 1961. Universality and necessity. The British Journal for the Philosophy
of Science 46: 89–102.
Kneale W. & Kneale M. 1962. The Development of Logic. Oxford: Clarendon.
MacFarlane J. 2000. What Does it Mean to Say that Logic is Formal? . PhD thesis.
Meyer R.K. & Lambert K. 1968. Universally free logic and standard quantification
theory. The Journal of Symbolic Logic 33: 8–26.
Quine W. 1954. Quantification and the empty domain. The Journal of Symbolic
Logic 19: 177–9.
———. 1980. Grammar, truth, and logic. In S. Kanger & S. Öhman (eds), Philos-
ophy and Grammar, 17–28. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.
Read S. 1994. Formal and material consequence. Journal of Philosophical Logic 23:
———. 2013. Identity and harmony revisited. Unpublished .
Russell B. 1919. Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. London: Routledge.
Sher G. 1996. Did Tarski commit Tarski’s fallacy? The Journal of Symbolic Logic
61: 653–86.
Smiley T. 1998. Conceptions of consequence. In The Routledge Encyclopedia of Phi-
losophy, London: Routledge.
Tarski A. 1936. On the concept of logical consequence. In Logic, Semantics, Meta-
mathematics, 409–20. Indianapolis: Hackett. 2nd edition. Trans. J. Woodger.