Synthese 191 (6):1-15 (2014)

Bob Fischer
Texas State University
A potential explanation of a fact is a hypothesis such that, if it were true, it would explain the fact in question. Let’s suppose that we become aware of a fact and some potential explanations thereof. Let’s also suppose that we would like to believe the truth. Given this aim, we can ask two questions. First, is it likely that one of these hypotheses is true? Second, given an affirmative answer to the first question, which one is it likely to be? Inference to the best explanation (IBE) offers answers to both questions. To the first, it says ‘Yes’—assuming that at least one of the hypotheses would, if true, provide a satisfactory explanation of the fact under consideration. To the second, it says that the hypothesis most likely to be true is the one that scores best on the explanatory virtues: conservatism, modesty, simplicity, generality, and predictive power. Many philosophers have argued against IBE’s answer to the first question. I am interested in an objection to its answer to the second. Many philosophers seem to think that it is unsustainable: they seem to think that even if we assume that one of the competing hypotheses is true, we should not think that IBE will help us to identify it. Or, more carefully, if these philosophers are doing what they appear to be doing—namely, offering critiques of IBE that don’t depend on assumptions about the field of competing hypotheses—then their claim is that IBE will not help us to identify the truth. I believe that this is mistaken: the argument for believing it assumes a model of IBE that we have no reason to accept.
Keywords Inference to the best explanation  Explanatory virtues   Bas van Fraassen  Particularism
Categories (categorize this paper)
Reprint years 2014
DOI 10.1007/s11229-013-0309-x
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 60,694
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Fact, Fiction, and Forecast.Nelson Goodman - 1955 - Harvard University Press.
Inference to the Best Explanation.Peter Lipton - 1993 - Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group.
The Web of Belief.W. V. O. Quine & J. S. Ullian - 1970 - New York: Random House.
Judgement and Justification.William G. Lycan - 1988 - Cambridge University Press.

View all 28 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

A Likely Explanation: IBE as a Guide to Better Hypotheses.David Harker - 2011 - South African Journal of Philosophy 30 (1):16-28.
Review Symposium.Ken Binmore - 1985 - Thesis Eleven 12 (1):145-155.
Mathematical Explanation and the Theory of Why-Questions.David Sandborg - 1998 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 49 (4):603-624.
Dissecting Explanatory Power.Petri Ylikoski & Jaakko Kuorikoski - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 148 (2):201–219.
Studies in the Logic of Explanatory Power.Jonah N. Schupbach - 2011 - Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh
Explanation and the Theory of Questions.Charles B. Cross - 1991 - Erkenntnis 34 (2):237 - 260.
Confirmation, Heuristics, and Explanatory Reasoning.Timothy McGrew - 2003 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 54 (4):553-567.


Added to PP index

Total views
61 ( #170,225 of 2,438,564 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
4 ( #167,451 of 2,438,564 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes