Inference to the best explanation

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P025-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 21, 2021, from

4. Further issues

Bas van Fraassen (1989) and others have written critically about inference to the best explanation from a Bayesian or probabilist perspective. They hold that necessary and sufficient conditions for justified belief are provided by the probability calculus and the requirement that a subject’s beliefs should be updated by the process of conditionalization (see Probability theory and epistemology §2). To the extent that inference to the best explanation imposes some further qualitative condition on the way one updates one’s beliefs, such inference would lead one to accept, irrationally, bets that are guaranteed to lose. One way to try to meet this challenge would be to show how explanatory inference could be incorporated within a probabilist setting. Another response would be to argue that these critics have somehow misconstrued the way inference to the best explanation works.

There are various important aspects of inference to the best explanation that have not even been touched upon here. These include its implications for ‘explanatory coherence’ theories, the relation between inference to the best explanation and causal inference, and the utility of inference to the best explanation in responding to sceptical arguments (see the further reading suggestions offered below for references on these topics).

Citing this article:
Vogel, Jonathan. Further issues. 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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