Now showing 1 - 10 of 12
- PublicationRealism and the absence of rivalsAmong the most serious challenges to scientific realism are arguments for the underdetermination of theory by evidence. This paper defends a version of scientific realism against what is perhaps the most influential recent argument of this sort, viz. Kyle Stanford’s New Induction over the History of Science. An essential part of the defense consists in a probabilistic analysis of the slogan 'absence of evidence is not evidence of absence'. On this basis it is argued that the likelihood of a theory being underdetermined depends crucially on social and historical factors, such as the structure of scientific communities and the time that has passed since the theory first became accepted. This is then shown to serve as the epistemological foundation for a version of scientific realism which avoids Stanford’s New Induction in a principled and non-question-begging way.
338Scopus© Citations 10
- PublicationExplanatory 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.
269Scopus© Citations 6
- PublicationUnderstanding 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.
486Scopus© Citations 36
- PublicationScientific 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.
529Scopus© Citations 68
- PublicationReconstructed EmpiricismAccording 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.
271Scopus© Citations 4
- PublicationCertainty 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.
- PublicationThere 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.
256Scopus© Citations 3
- PublicationReactionary Responses to the Bad Lot Objection(Elsevier, 2017-02)As it is standardly conceived, Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) is a form of ampliative inference in which one infers a hypothesis because it provides a better potential explanation of one’s evidence than any other available, competing explanatory hypothesis. Bas van Fraassen famously objected to IBE thus formulated that we may have no reason to think that any of the available, competing explanatory hypotheses are true. While revisionary responses to the Bad Lot Objection concede that IBE needs to be reformulated in light of this problem, reactionary responses argue that the Bad Lot Objection is fallacious, incoherent, or misguided. This paper shows that the most influential reactionary responses to the Bad Lot Objection do nothing to undermine the original objection. This strongly suggests that proponents of IBE should focus their efforts on revisionary responses, i.e. on finding a more sophisticated characterization of IBE for which the Bad Lot Objection loses its bite.
228Scopus© Citations 9
- PublicationWhen 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.
236Scopus© Citations 13
- PublicationAbductively 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.
360Scopus© Citations 6