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Local and Global Proof-Theoretic Semantics

We have discussed the philosophical background of three conceptions of hypotheses and hypothetical proofs. Each of them has strong implications for the form of prooftheoretic semantics. According to the no-assumptions view (Sect. 2.2) with its singlelayer conception there is no structural way of dealing with hypotheses. Therefore,there is no proof-theoretic semantics of implication, at least not along the common line that an implication expresses that we have or can generate a hypothetical proof. We would need instead a semantics from outside.

A proof-theoretic semantics for the placeholder view of assumptions (Sect. 2.1), even though it is assertion-centred, is not necessarily verificationist in the sense that it considers introduction rules for logical operators to be constitutive of meaning. Nothing prevents us from considering elimination rules as primitive meaning-giving rules and justifying introduction rules from them (see Prawitz [49], Schroeder-Heister [67]). However, the placeholder-view forces one particular feature that might be seen as problematic from certain points of view, namely the global character of the semantics.

According to the placeholder-view of assumptions, an open derivation D of B

from A




would be considered valid if for every closed derivation of A



the derivation



obtained by substituting the derivation D of A for the open assumption A is valid. This makes sense only if proof-theoretic validity is defined for whole proofs rather than for single rules, since the entity in which the assumption A is an open place is a proof. A proof would not be considered valid because it is composed of valid rules, but conversely, a rule would be considered valid if it is a limiting case of a proof, namely a one-step proof. This is actually how the definitions of validity in the spirit of Prawitz's work proceed (Prawitz [48], Schroeder-Heister [56, 61]).

This global characteristic of validity has strong implications. We must expect now that a proof as a whole is well-behaved in a certain sense, for example, that it has certain features related to normalisability. In all definitions of validity we have as a fundamental property that a closed proof is valid iff it reduces to a valid closed proof, which means that validity is always considered modulo reduction. And reduction applies to the proof as a whole, which means that it is a global issue. As validity is global, there is no way for partial meaning in any sense. A proof can be valid, and it can be invalid. However, there is no possibility of the proof being only partially valid as reflected in the way the proof behaves.

This global proof semantics has its merits as long as one considers only cases such as the standard logical constants, where everything is well-founded and we can build valid sentences from the bottom up. However, it reaches its limits of applicability, if proof-theoretic semantics should cover situations where we do not have such a full specification of meaning. When dealing with iterated inductive definitions, we can, of course, require that definitions be well-behaved, as Martin-Löf [40] did in his theory. However, when it comes to partial inductive definitions, the situation is different (see Sect. 4).

Here it is much easier to say: We have locally valid rules, but the composition of such rules is not necessarily a globally valid derivation. In a rule-based approach we can make the composition of rules and its behaviour a problem, whereas on the transmission view the validity of composition is always enforced. Substitution becomes an explicit step, which can be problematised. It will be possible, in particular, to distinguish between the validity of rules and the effect the composition of rules has on a proof. In fact, it is not even mandatory to allow from the very beginning that each composition of (locally) valid rules renders a proof valid. We might impose further restriction on the composition of valid rules. This occurs especially when the composition of locally valid rules does not yield a proof the assumptions of which can be interpreted as placeholders, that is, for which the substitution property does not hold.

Therefore, the bidirectional model of proof allows for a local proof-theoretic semantics. Here we can talk simply of rules that extend a proof on the assertion or on the assumption side. There will be rules for each side, and one may discuss issues such as when these rules are in harmony or not. Whether one side is to be considered primary, and, if yes, which one, does not affect the model of reasoning as such. In any case a derivation would be called valid if it consists of the application of valid rules, which is exactly what local proof-theoretic semantics requires.

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