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29. Inference to the Best Explanation

PETER LIPTON


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics explanation, science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00032.x


Extract

Science depends on judgments of the bearing of evidence on theory. Scientists must judge whether an observation or the result of an experiment supports, disconfirms, or is simply irrelevant to a given hypothesis. Similarly, scientists may judge that, given all the available evidence, a hypothesis ought to be accepted as correct or nearly so, rejected as false, or neither. Occasionally, these evidential judgments can be make on deductive grounds. If an experimental result strictly contradicts a hypothesis, then the truth of the evidence deductively entails the falsity of the hypothesis. In the great majority of cases, however, the connection between evidence and hypothesis is nondemonstrative or inductive. In particular, this is so whenever a general hypothesis is inferred to be correct on the basis of the available data, since the truth of the data will not deductively entail the truth of the hypothesis. It always remains possible that the hypothesis is false even though the data are correct. One of the central aims of the philosophy of science is to give a principled account of these judgments and inferences connecting evidence to theory. In the deductive case, this project is well advanced, thanks to a productive stream of research into the structure of deductive argument that stretches back to antiquity. The same cannot be said for inductive inferences. Although some of the central ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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