Inference to the Best Explanation: Fundamentalism's Failures

In Kevin McCain & Ted Poston (eds.), Best Explanations: New Essays on Inference to the Best Explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 80-96 (2017)

Authors
Jared A. Millson
California State University, Bakersfield
Mark Risjord
Emory University
Kareem Khalifa
Middlebury College
Abstract
Many epistemologists take Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) to be “fundamental.” For instance, Lycan (1988, 128) writes that “all justified reasoning is fundamentally explanatory reasoning.” Conee and Feldman (2008, 97) concur: “fundamental epistemic principles are principles of best explanation.” Call them fundamentalists. They assert that nothing deeper could justify IBE, as is typically assumed of rules of deductive inference, such as modus ponens. However, logicians account for modus ponens with the valuation rule for the material conditional. By contrast, fundamentalists account for IBE with an ill-defined set of relations that happen to furnish their favorite set of inductive inferences. To our eye, this seems a little too convenient—there is too much room for ad hoc, just-so stories about the “striking” correspondence between our explanatory and inductive practices. We will argue that the (explanatory) pluralism adopted by the leading theorists of the best explanation—philosophers of science—undermines fundamentalism. Section 1 clarifies fundamentalism’s key tenets. Section 2 presents pluralism’s challenge to fundamentalism. Section 3 considers a potential fundamentalist reply to this challenge. Sections 4 through 6 canvass the leading candidates for developing this fundamentalist reply, showing each to be unsatisfactory.
Keywords Inference to the best explanation  Explanatory Pluralism  Scientific Explanation
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