Can there be a Bayesian explanationism? On the prospects of a productive partnership

Synthese 194 (4):1245–1272 (2017)
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In this paper, I consider the relationship between Inference to the Best Explanation and Bayesianism, both of which are well-known accounts of the nature of scientific inference. In Sect. 2, I give a brief overview of Bayesianism and IBE. In Sect. 3, I argue that IBE in its most prominently defended forms is difficult to reconcile with Bayesianism because not all of the items that feature on popular lists of “explanatory virtues”—by means of which IBE ranks competing explanations—have confirmational import. Rather, some of the items that feature on these lists are “informational virtues”—properties that do not make a hypothesis \ more probable than some competitor \ given evidence E, but that, roughly-speaking, give that hypothesis greater informative content. In Sect. 4, I consider as a response to my argument a recent version of compatibilism which argues that IBE can provide further normative constraints on the objectively correct probability function. I argue that this response does not succeed, owing to the difficulty of defending with any generality such further normative constraints. Lastly, in Sect. 5, I propose that IBE should be regarded, not as a theory of scientific inference, but rather as a theory of when we ought to “accept” H, where the acceptability of H is fixed by the goals of science and concerns whether H is worthy of commitment as research program. In this way, IBE and Bayesianism, as I will show, can be made compatible, and thus the Bayesian and the proponent of IBE can be friends

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Frank Cabrera
University of Wisconsin, Madison (PhD)


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