Inference to the best explanation

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P025-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 20, 2021, from

Article Summary

Inference to the best explanation is the procedure of choosing the hypothesis or theory that best explains the available data. The factors that make one explanation better than another may include depth, comprehensiveness, simplicity and unifying power. According to Harman (1965), explanatory inference plays a central role in both everyday and scientific thinking. In ordinary life, a person might make the inference that a fuse has blown to explain why several kitchen appliances stopped working all at once. Scientists also seem to engage in inference to the best explanation; for example, astronomers concluded that another planet must exist in order to account for aberrations in the orbit of Uranus. However, despite the suggestiveness of cases like these, the extent to which we do and should rely on inference to the best explanation is highly controversial.

    Citing this article:
    Vogel, Jonathan. Inference to the best explanation, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P025-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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