On its face, defeasibility is a modest concept with roots in logic and epistemology. An inference is defeasible if it can potentially be "defeated" in light of additional information. Unlike deductively sound conclusions, the products of defeasible reasoning remain subject to revision, held tentatively no matter how firmly.

All scientific claims — whether textbook pronouncements or haphazard speculations — are held defeasibly. It is a hallmark of the scientific process that claims are forever vulnerable to refinement and rejection, hostage to what the future could bring. Far from being a weakness, this is a source of science's greatness. Because scientific inferences are defeasible, they remain responsive to a world that can reveal itself gradually, change over time, and deviate from our dearest assumptions.

The concept of defeasibilility has proven valuable in characterizing artificial and natural intelligence. Everyday inferences, no less than scientific inferences, are vetted by the harsh judge of novel data: additional information that can potentially defeat current beliefs. On further inspection, the antique may turn out to be a fake and the alleged culprit an innocent victim. Dealing with an uncertain world forces cognitive systems to abandon the comforts of deduction and engage in defeasible reasoning.

Defeasibility is a powerful concept when we recognize it not as a modest term of art, but as the proper attitude towards all belief. Between blind faith and radical skepticism is a vast but sparsely populated space where defeasibility finds its home. Irreversible commitments would be foolish; boundless doubt paralyzing. Defeasible beliefs provide the provisional certainty necessary to navigate an uncertain world.

Recognizing the potential revisability of our beliefs is a prerequisite to rational discourse and progress, be it in science, politics, religion, or the mundane negotiations of daily life. Consider the world we could live in if all of our local and global leaders, if all of our personal and professional friends and foes, recognized the defeasibility of their beliefs and acted accordingly. That sure sounds like progress to me. But of course, I could be wrong.