Now showing 1 - 10 of 12
  • Publication
    Certainty and Explanation in Descartes' Philosophy of Science
    (International Society for the History of Philosophy and Science, 2017-08-24)
    This paper presents a new approach to resolving an apparent tension in Descartes’ discussion of scientific theories and explanations in the Principles of Philosophy. On the one hand, Descartes repeatedly claims that any theories presented in science must be certain and indubitable. On the other hand, Descartes himself presents an astonishing number of speculative explanations of various scientific phenomena. In response to this tension, commentators have suggested that Descartes changed his mind about scientific theories having to be certain and indubitable, that he lacked the conceptual resources to describe the appropriate epistemic attitude towards speculative theories, or that the presence of geometrical principles in these explanations guarantee their certainty. I argue that none of these responses is satisfactory and suggest a different resolution to the tension by examining Descartes' notion of explanation. On Descartes’ view, providing an adequate explanation does not require being certain of the theories that constitute the explanans. Relatedly, the purpose of Cartesian explanations is not to discover the truth about the various underlying mechanisms that such explanations appeal to, but to support his general philosophical thesis that all natural phenomena can be explained by appealing to the extension of matter.
  • Publication
    When Expert Disagreement Supports the Consensus
    (Taylor and Francis, 2017)
    It is often suggested that disagreement among scientific experts is a reason not to trust those experts, even about matters on which they are in agreement. In direct opposition to this view, I argue here that the very fact that there is disagreement among experts on a given issue provides a positive reason for non-experts to trust that the experts really are justified in their attitudes towards consensus theories. I show how this line of thought can be spelled out in three distinct frameworks for non-deductive reasoning, viz. Bayesian Confirmation Theory, Inference to the Best Explanation, and Inferential Robustness Analysis.
      231Scopus© Citations 13
  • Publication
    Abductively Robust Inference
    (Oxford University Press, 2017-01-01)
    Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) is widely criticized for being an unreliable form of ampliative inference – partly because the explanatory hypotheses we have considered at a given time may all be false, and partly because there is an asymmetry between the comparative judgment on which an IBE is based and the absolute verdict that IBE is meant to license. In this paper, I present a further reason to doubt the epistemic merits of IBE and argue that it motivates moving to an inferential pattern in which IBE emerges as a degenerate limiting case. Since this inferential pattern is structurally similar to an argumentative strategy known as Inferential Robustness Analysis (IRA), it effectively combines the most attractive features of IBE and IRA into a unified approach to non-deductive inference.
      353Scopus© Citations 6
  • Publication
    Scientific progress: Knowledge versus understanding
    (Elsevier, 2016-04)
    What is scientific progress? On Alexander Bird's epistemic account of scientific progress, an episode in science is progressive precisely when there is more scientific knowledge at the end of the episode than at the beginning. Using Bird's epistemic account as a foil, this paper develops an alternative understanding-based account on which an episode in science is progressive precisely when scientists grasp how to correctly explain or predict more aspects of the world at the end of the episode than at the beginning. This account is shown to be superior to the epistemic account by examining cases in which knowledge and understanding come apart. In these cases, it is argued that scientific progress matches increases in scientific understanding rather than accumulations of knowledge. In addition, considerations having to do with minimalist idealizations, pragmatic virtues, and epistemic value all favor this understanding-based account over its epistemic counterpart.
      521Scopus© Citations 67
  • Publication
    Explanatory Rivals and the Ultimate Argument
    (Wiley, 2016-09)
    Although many aspects of Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) have been extensively discussed, very little has so far been said about what it takes for a hypothesis to count as a rival explanatory hypothesis in the context of IBE. The primary aim of this article is to rectify this situation by arguing for a specific account of explanatory rivalry. On this account, explanatory rivals are (roughly speaking) complete explanations of a given explanandum. When explanatory rivals are conceived of in this way, I argue that IBE is a more plausible and defensible rule of inference than it would otherwise be. The secondary aim of the article is to demonstrate the importance of accounts of explanatory rivalry by examining a prominent philosophical argument in which IBE is employed, viz. the so-called Ultimate Argument for scientific realism. In short, I argue that a well-known objection to the Ultimate Argument due to Arthur Fine fails in virtue of tacitly assuming an account of explanatory rivalry that we have independent reasons to reject.
      261Scopus© Citations 6
  • Publication
    There May Yet Be Non-Causal Explanations (of Particular Events)
    (Springer, 2016-09)
    There are many putative counterexamples to the view that all scientific explanations are causal explanations. Using a new theory of what it is to be a causal explanation, Bradford Skow has recently argued that several of the putative counterexamples fail to be non-causal. This paper defends some of the counterexamples by showing how Skow’s argument relies on an overly permissive theory of causal explanations.
      243Scopus© Citations 3
  • Publication
    The Heuristic Conception of Inference to the Best Explanation
    (Springer, 2017-05-24)
    An influential suggestion about the relationship between Bayesianism and inference to the best explanation (IBE) holds that IBE functions as a heuristic to approximate Bayesian reasoning. While this view promises to unify Bayesianism and IBE in a very attractive manner, important elements of the view have not yet been spelled out in detail. I present and argue for a heuristic conception of IBE on which IBE serves primarily to locate the most probable available explanatory hypothesis to serve as a working hypothesis in an agent’s further investigations. Along the way, I criticize what I consider to be an overly ambitious conception of the heuristic role of IBE, according to which IBE serves as a guide to absolute probability values. My own conception, by contrast, requires only that IBE can function as a guide to the comparative probability values of available hypotheses. This is shown to be a much more realistic role for IBE given the nature and limitations of the explanatory considerations with which IBE operates.
      325Scopus© Citations 13
  • Publication
    Understanding without Justification or Belief
    (Wiley, 2016)
    In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest among epistemologists in the nature of understanding, with some authors arguing that understanding should replace knowledge as the primary focus of epistemology. But what is understanding? According to what is often called the standard view, understanding is a species of knowledge. Although this view has recently been challenged in various ways, even the critics of the standard view have assumed that understanding requires justification and belief. I argue that it requires neither. If sound, these arguments have important upshots not only for the nature of understanding, but also for its distinctive epistemic value and its role in contemporary epistemology.
      468Scopus© Citations 35
  • Publication
    Deductive Cogency, Understanding, and Acceptance
    (Springer, 2018-07)
    Deductive Cogency holds that the set of propositions towards which one has, or is prepared to have, a given type of propositional attitude should be consistent and closed under logical consequence. While there are many propositional attitudes that are not subject to this requirement, e.g. hoping and imagining, it is at least prima facie plausible that Deductive Cogency applies to the doxastic attitude involved in propositional knowledge, viz. (outright) belief. However, this thought is undermined by the well-known preface paradox, leading a number of philosophers to conclude that Deductive Cogency has at best a very limited role to play in our epistemic lives. I argue here that Deductive Cogency is still an important epistemic requirement, albeit not as a requirement on belief. Instead, building on a distinction between belief and acceptance introduced by Jonathan Cohen and recent developments in the epistemology of understanding, I propose that Deductive Cogency applies to the attitude of treating propositions as given in the context of attempting to understand a given phenomenon. I then argue that this simultaneously accounts for the plausibility of the considerations in favor of Deductive Cogency and avoids the problematic consequences of the preface paradox.
      374Scopus© Citations 5
  • Publication
    Reconstructed Empiricism
    (Springer, 2016)
    According to Bas van Fraassen, scientific realists and anti-realists disagree about whether accepting a scientific theory involves believing that the theory is true. On van Fraassen's own anti-realist empiricist position, accepting a theory involves believing only that the theory is correct in its claims about observable aspects of the world. However, a number of philosophers have argued that acceptance and belief cannot be distinguished and thus that the debate is either confused or trivially settled in favor of the realist. In addition, another set of philosophers have argued that van Fraassen’s empiricist position appeals to an unmotivated distinction between observable and unobservable aspects of the world. This paper aims to reconstruct a van Fraassen-style empiricism about scientific acceptance that avoids these two objections – reconstructed empiricism.
      260Scopus© Citations 4