Confirmation, heuristics, and explanatory reasoning

Abstract
Recent work on inference to the best explanation has come to an impasse regarding the proper way to coordinate the theoretical virtues in explanatory inference with probabilistic confirmation theory, and in particular with aspects of Bayes's Theorem. I argue that the theoretical virtues are best conceived heuristically and that such a conception gives us the resources to explicate the virtues in terms of ceteris paribus theorems. Contrary to some Bayesians, this is not equivalent to identifying the virtues with likelihoods or priors per se; the virtues may be more accessible epistemically than likelihoods or priors. I then prove a ceteris paribus theorem regarding theoretical consilience, use it to correct a recent application of Reichenbach's common cause principle, and apply it to a test case of scientific reasoning. Explanation and confirmation The heuristic conception of theoretical virtues Abduction and the accessibility of explanatory power Evidential and theoretical consilience A test case: gravitational lensing Conclusion Thus natural science appears completely to lose from sight the large and general questions; but all the more splendid is the success when, groping in the thicket of special questions, we suddenly find a small opening that allows a hitherto undreamt of outlook on the whole. (L. Boltzmann, Theoretical Physics and Philosophical Problems).
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