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The Place of Explanation in Scientific Inquiry: Inference to the Best Explanation vs Inference to the Only Explanation.

Woodward, James The Place of Explanation in Scientific Inquiry: Inference to the Best Explanation vs Inference to the Only Explanation. UNSPECIFIED.

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Abstract

This paper argues that explanation is a goal of science that is valuable in its own right and not simply as a means to other goals such as truth. Successful explanation requires truth or something in that neighborhood but in most cases, it is misguided to try to establish that an explanation is true by arguing that it would if true be the "best" among alternative explanations of some set of explananda. Contrary to advocates of inference to the best explanation potential explanatoriness is usually not a sign of truth. Establishing the truth or correctness of an explanation instead requires independent evidence that rules out alternatives to that explanation-- that is, inference to the only explanation that is supported by the evidence. Contrary to some popular views about the "underdetermination" of theory by evidence, science often succeeds in establishing such only explanations.

The one kind of case in which it is arguable that there is a connection between inductive support and potential explanatoriness concerns "tuning"-- the presence of tuning is sometimes plausibly regarded as an explanatory deficiency and, in addition, as suggesting a lack of inductive support. This is the reason for the "in most cases" qualification above. But, I also suggest, tuning is not well understood.

In addition, it is argued that various alleged explanatory virtues such as simplicity and unifying power are not really explanatory virtues, contrary to what is claimed in the literature on IBE. Moreover, many cases there is no basis for the kinds of rankings of explanation that talk of a "best if true" explanation requires. Finally, I argue for a particular interpretation of the "truth" requirement on explanation -- that this should be understood as a matter of getting the relevant dependency relations approximately right, as opposed making true claims about other matters such as "ontology".


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Item Type: Other
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Woodward, Jamesjfw@pitt.edu
Keywords: Inference to the Best Explanation, Inference to the Only Explanation, What-if- Things-Had-Been-Different Condition
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Evidence
General Issues > Explanation
Depositing User: Jim Woodward
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2024 18:52
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2024 18:52
Item ID: 22998
Subjects: General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Evidence
General Issues > Explanation
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/22998

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