Inference to the Best Explanation - An Overview

In Lorenzo Magnani (ed.), Handbook of Abductive Cognition. Cham: Springer. pp. 1-34 (2022)
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In this article, I will provide a critical overview of the form of non-deductive reasoning commonly known as “Inference to the Best Explanation” (IBE). Roughly speaking, according to IBE, we ought to infer the hypothesis that provides the best explanation of our evidence. In section 2, I survey some contemporary formulations of IBE and highlight some of its putative applications. In section 3, I distinguish IBE from C.S. Peirce’s notion of abduction. After underlining some of the essential elements of IBE, the rest of the entry is organized around an examination of various problems that IBE confronts, along with some extant attempts to address these problems. In section 4, I consider the question of when a fact requires an explanation, since presumably IBE applies only in cases where some explanation is called for. In section 5, I consider the difficult question of how we ought to understand IBE in light of the fact that among philosophers, there is significant disagreement about what constitutes an explanation. In section 6, I consider different strategies for justifying the truth-conduciveness of the explanatory virtues, e.g., simplicity, unification, scope, etc., criteria which play an indispensable role in any given application of IBE. In section 7, I survey some of the most recent literature on IBE, much of which consists of investigations of the status of IBE from the standpoint of the Bayesian philosophy of science.

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Frank Cabrera
University of Wisconsin, Madison (PhD)


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