Unity As An Epistemic Virtue

Erkenntnis 83 (5):983-1002 (2018)

It's widely supposed that unification is an epistemic virtue: the degree to which a theory is unified contributes to its overall confirmation. However, this supposition has consequences which haven't been noted, and which undermine the leading accounts of unification. For, given Hempel's equivalence condition, any epistemic virtue must be such that logically equivalent theories must equally well unify any body of evidence, and logically equivalent bodies of evidence must be equally well unified by any theory. Yet the leading accounts of unification in Bayesian terms, or those in terms of argument patterns, cannot satisfy these constraints conditions. The reason for this runs deep: these accounts of unification make unity depend on factors that vary between equivalent theories: the probabilistic relations of their components, or their relations to argument patterns. The solution is to abandon such accounts and instead adopt an account of unity based on worldly relations such as causation, rather than inferential relations. Such an account effortlessly satisfies the equivalence conditions, and so may describe the epistemic virtue of unity.
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DOI 10.1007/s10670-017-9923-1
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References found in this work BETA

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