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Closure Failure and Scientific Inquiry

Roush, Sherrilyn (2017) Closure Failure and Scientific Inquiry. Res Philosophica, 94 (2). pp. 275-299.

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Deduction is important to scientific inquiry because it can extend knowledge efficiently, bypassing the need to investigate everything directly. The existence of closure failure—where one knows the premises and that the premises imply the conclusion but nevertheless does not know the conclusion—is a problem because it threatens this usage. It means that we cannot trust deduction for gaining new knowledge unless we can identify such cases ahead of time so as to avoid them. For philosophically engineered examples we have “inner alarm bells” to detect closure failure, but in scientific investigation we would want to use deduction for extension of our knowledge to matters we don’t already know that we couldn’t know. Through a quantitative treatment of how fast probabilistic sensitivity is lost over steps of deduction, I identify a condition that guarantees that the growth of potential error will be gradual; thus, dramatic closure failure is avoided. Whether the condition is fulfilled is often obvious, but sometimes it requires substantive investigation. I illustrate that not only safe deduction but the discovery of dramatic closure failures can lead to scientific advances.

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Keywords: closure, closure failure, sensitivity, deduction, knowledge
Subjects: General Issues > Confirmation/Induction
General Issues > Evidence
Depositing User: Sherrilyn Roush
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2020 19:24
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2020 19:24
Item ID: 17381
Journal or Publication Title: Res Philosophica
Official URL:
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.11612/resphil.1537
Subjects: General Issues > Confirmation/Induction
General Issues > Evidence
Date: April 2017
Page Range: pp. 275-299
Volume: 94
Number: 2

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