Belief is not the issue: A defence of inference to the best explanation

Ratio 26 (1):62-78 (2012)
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Defences of inference to the best explanation (IBE) frequently associate IBE with scientific realism, the idea that it is reasonable to believe our best scientific theories. I argue that this linkage is unfortunate. IBE does not warrant belief, since the fact that a theory is the best available explanation does not show it to be (even probably) true. What IBE does warrant is acceptance: taking a proposition as a premise in theoretical and/or practical reasoning. We ought to accept our best scientific theories since they are the theories that are most likely to lead to the goal of science, which is that of knowledge. In support of this claim I invoke Bill Lycan's Panglossian reflections regarding Mother Nature.1.

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Gregory W. Dawes
University of Otago


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