Default Reasoning, Nonmonotonic Logics, and the Frame Problem

Steve Hanks, Drew McDermott

Nonmonotonic formal systems have been proposed as an extension to classical first-order logic that will capture the process of human "default reasoning" or "plausible inference" through their inference mechanisms just as modus ponens provides a model for deductive reasoning. But although the technical properties of these logics have been studied in detail and many examples of human default reasoning have been identified, for the most part these logics have not actually been applied to practical problems to see whether they produce the expected results. We provide axioms for a simple problem in temporal reasoning which has long been identified as a case of default reasoning, thus presumably amenable to representation in nonmonotonic logic. Upon examining the resulting nonmonotonic theories, however, we find that the inferences permitted by the logics are not those we had intended when we wrote the axioms, and in fact are much weaker. This problem is shown to be independent of the logic used; nor does it depend on any particular temporal representation. Upon analyzing the failure we find that the nonmonotonic logics we considered are inherently incapable of representing this kind of default reasoning. Finally we discuss two recent proposals for solving this problem.

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