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Rule of inference

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In logic, especially in mathematical logic, a rule of inference is a scheme for constructing valid inferences. These schemes establish syntactic relations between a set of formulas called premises and an assertion called a conclusion. These syntactic relations are used in the process of inference, whereby new true assertions are arrived at from other already known ones. Rules also apply to informal logic and arguments, but the formulation is much more difficult and controversial.

As stated, the application of a rule of inference is a purely syntactic procedure. Nevertheless it must also be valid, or more precisely validity preserving. In order for the requirement of validity preservation to make sense, some form of semantics is necessary for the assertions the rule of inference relates and the rule of inference itself. For a discussion of the interrelation between rules of inference and semantics, see the article on propositional logic.

Prominent examples of rules of inference in propositional logic are the rules of modus ponens and modus tollens. For first-order predicate logic, rules of inference are needed to deal with logical quantifier s. See also validity for more information on the informal description of such arguments. And see first-order resolution for a uniform treatment of all rules of inference as a single rule in the case of first order predicate logic.

Note that there are many different systems of formal logic each one with its own set of well-formed formulas, rules of inference and semantics. See temporal logic, intuitionistic logic. Quantum logic is also a form of logic quite different from the ones mentioned earlier. See also proof theory.

In the setting of formal logic (and many related areas), however, rules of inference are usually given in the following standard form:


This expression states, that whenever in the course of some logical derivation the given premises have been obtained, the specified conclusion can be taken for granted as well. The exact formal language that is used to describe both premises and conclusions depends on the actual context of the derivations. In a simple case, one may use logical formulae, such as in


which is just the rule modus ponens of propositional logic. Rules of inference are usually formulated as rule schemata that encode (infinitely) many other rules.

Rules of inference must be distinguished from axioms of a theory, which are assertions that are assumed to be true without proof. In terms of semantics, axioms are valid assertions. Axioms are usually regarded as starting points for applying rules of inference and generating a set of conclusions. Note that there is no sharp distinction between a rule of inference and an axiom, in the sense that a rule can be artificially encoded as an axiom and vice-versa. For instance, the set premises of a rule could be void, so that the conclusion is always true. Conversely, an axiom is commonly supposed to be a single clause, but in fact one could specify a schema that generates an infinite set of axioms, which would superficially have the same form as a rule of inference.

Rules of inference play a vital role in the specification of logical calculi as they are considered in proof theory, such as the sequent calculus.

See also

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45