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8. Confirmation, Paradoxes of


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00011.x


The confirmation of scientific hypotheses has a quantitative and qualitative aspect. No empirical hypothesis can be confirmed conclusively, so philosophers of science have used the theory of probability to elucidate the quantitative component, which determines a degree of confirmation - that is, the extent to which the hypothesis is supported by the evidence (see probability and evidence and confirmation ). By contrast, the qualitative feature of confirmation concerns the prior question of the nature of the relation between the hypothesis and the evidence if the hypothesis is to be confirmed by its instances. If a hypothesis is to be supported by a body of evidence, it must be related to the evidence in an appropriate way. The paradoxes of confirmation arise in the attempt to characterize in first-order logic the qualitative relation between hypothesis and evidence. The most celebrated example - the raven paradox - begins with the simple hypothesis “All ravens are black,” symbolized in first-order quantification as (x) (Rx → Bx). According to a natural and intuitive principle of evidential support, often called “Nicod's condition,” a hypothesis is confirmed by its positive instances and disconfirmed by its negative ones. So, the hypothesis that all ravens are black, (x) (Rx → Bx), is confirmed by the observation statement “This is a raven and it is black” (Ra ∧ Ba), and disconfirmed ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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