The epistemology of absence-based inference

Nikolaj Jang Lee Linding Pedersen* (Corresponding Author), Jesper Kallestrup

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


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 ∼ 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 ∼ p.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2573-2593
Number of pages21
Issue number13
Early online date19 Mar 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2013

Bibliographical note

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


  • Absence of evidence
  • Absence-based belief
  • Absence-based inference
  • Alethic principles
  • Epistemic coverage
  • Evidence of absence
  • Evidential principles
  • Fallacy of ignorance
  • Reliabilism
  • Sanford Goldberg


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