Inference to Best Explanation True (Epistemology)


Doctor's Hypothesis Analogy (Vogel)

The first question we must answer is that of how we know things. There is no absolute certainty, but knowledge is simply a matter of inference to the best explanation.

Jonathan Vogel (Professor of Philosophy, Amherst College). “Skepticism and Inference to the Best Explanation.” Journal of Philosophy 1990, 4-5.

These remarks about the Moorean and a priori replies to the Deceiver Argument leave a great deal unsaid.  But let’s move on, and consider a third sort of reply, which I’ll call explanationism.   The idea behind this approach is that, very often, we are justified in adopting hypotheses because they do a good job of explaining the data we have.  Here is an illustration. Suppose that a patient, Roger, goes to see his physician Dr. GRoger is sneezing, has moist eyes, and his condition recurs at a certain time of the year.  Roger’s having an allergy explains these symptoms. There are other possible explanations.  It could be that Roger has had a series of colds over the years, or that he has a chronic respiratory infection that lies dormant for much of the time.  But if Roger’s having an allergy explains his symptoms extremely well, and his having any of these other condition would explain his symptoms much less well, then Dr. G has good reason to reject those other diagnoses.  Dr. G would be in a position to conclude that R’s symptoms are due to an allergy.  Dr. G’s [A]rriving at a diagnosis in this way is an example of what is known as inference to the best explanationIn general, if one hypothesis provides a significantly better explanation of the available evidence than its competitors do, that is a reason to accept the explanation which is best and to reject the competitors.