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INFERENCE

3.3.2 If, for example, a moral system is to enjoin me not to say this particular thing
which is false, its principles must contain implicitly or explicitly an imperative to the
effect that what is false is not to be said in circumstances like those in which I now am.
And, similarly, they must contain other imperatives such as will regulate my conduct in
all manner of circumstances, both foreseen and unforeseen. But it is obvious that such a
set of principles could not possibly be self-evident. It is not easier, but more difficult, to
assent to a very general command like 'Never say what is false' than it is to assent to the
particular command 'Do not say this particular thing which is false', just as it is more
difficult and dangerous to adopt the hypothesis that all mules are barren than to
acknowledge the undoubted fact that this mule which has just died has had no
progeny. A decision never to say what is false involves a decision in advance about a
very great number of individual cases, with only the information about them that they
are all cases of saying what is false. It is not, surely, casuistry of an objectionable kind to
want to avoid committing ourselves in this fashion. It is quite true that, when we have
had experience of making such decisions, we may eventually find ourselves able to
accept the general principle. But suppose that we were faced, for the first time, with the
question 'Shall I now say what is false?' and had no past decisions, either of our own or
of other people, to guide us. How should we then decide the question? Not, surely, by
inference from a self-evident general principle, 'Never say what is false'; for if we could
not decide even whether to say what was false in these particular circumstances, how
could we possibly decide whether to say what was false in innumerable circumstances
whose details were totally unknown to us, save in this respect, that they were all cases
of saying what was false?
The same point may be put in another way. It is an established principle of logic that if
one proposition entails another, then the negation of the second entails the negation of
the first. An analogous principle, somewhat stronger, is also valid, that if I know that
one proposition entails another, to be in doubt about assenting to the second is eo ipso
to be in doubt about assenting to the first. For instance, if I know that the proposition
'All mules are barren and this is a mule' entails the proposition 'This (mule) is barren', it
follows that if I am in doubt about assenting to the proposition 'This (mule) is barren', I
must be in doubt about assenting to the proposition 'All mules are barren and this is a
mule'; and this means that I must be in doubt about either 'All mules are barren' or 'This
is a mule'. Now if we apply an exactly parallel reasoning to our case about saying what
is false, we get the following result. Since I am in doubt, ex hypothesi, whether or not to
make this false statement, I must be in doubt about assenting to the command 'Do not
make this statement'. But if I am in doubt about this command, I must eo ipso be in
doubt, either about the factual premiss 'This statement is false' (and this alternative is
ruled out ex hypothesi), or else, as must be the case, about the imperative premiss
'Never say what is false'. It follows that no general principle can be self-evident which is
to be of assistance in deciding particular questions about which we are in doubt.