Abductive reasoning is to abduce (or take away) a logical assumption, explanation, inference, conclusion, hypothesis, or best guess from an observation or set of observations. The evidence for the hypothesis that smoking is a causal factor in lung cancer is so strong that we don’t simply say that the evidence points in that direction; we rather say that we now know that smoking causes lung cancer. Dr. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. That fateful evening at the record hop, Connie was confronted with data, mainly her own simple observations, which cry out for explanation. G. Harman, “The Inference to the Best Explanation,” Philosophical Review 74, no. Two steps are involved. Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Your answer must make sense of all the facts, not just some of them. Based on the rank order, see if the original is the best explanation. First of all, we are dealing with an inference. COMMON STYLES OF ARGUMENT INDUCTIVE GENERALIZATION | ARGUMENT from a GENERAL STATEMENT HYPOTHETICAL Argument | ARGUMENT from a SOURCE | The AD HOMINEM Fallacy OTHER DEDUCTIONS & CIRCULAR ARGUMENT | DECISION-MAKING | Argument by ANALOGY CAUSAL … . Children are fluent speakers of complex grammatical sentences by the age of three, without benefit of formal instruction. In the previous lecture we saw one example of inference to the best explanation, but it might help to go through just one more. The ass…, falsification, falsificationism To falsify a knowledge-claim is to provide evidence that it is false. Now use the other three steps to determine whether Leslie’s evidence is strong, weak, or just so-so. And the argument is also committed to this original explanation being better than all these rivals. "Inference to the Best Explanation Observing the street to be dry provides experimental confirmation of the sprinkler hypothesis relative to the rain hypothesis. We will address this in some detail in a later chapter, but for now, let’s simply phrase the question as “Which account makes the best sense of what we know?”. Stephen J. Gould, “Tires to Sandals,” Natural History, April 1989, 8–15, quoted in Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 390. Although it gives a natural account of many inferences in both science and ordinary life, the model needs further development. These inferences help you make decisions about things like what you’ll say or how you’ll act in a given situation. For more information contact us at info@libretexts.org or check out our status page at https://status.libretexts.org. e4. Inference to the Best Explanation Richard Johns revised October 2008 Before we can discuss inference to the best explanation, we must be clear on what an explanation is. Moreover, on this model, the observations support the hypothesis precisely because it would explain them. Here comes a scary fact! "Putting Inference to the Best Explanation in Its Place." But we are not dealing with just an inference to an explanation but to the best explanation. Here’s how I rank order the three competing accounts of what we know about language. Scientists also seem to engage in inference to the best explanation; for example, astronomers concluded that another planet must exist in order to account for aberrations in the orbit of Uranus. In Inference to the Best Explanation, Peter Lipton gives this important and influential idea the development and assessment it deserves. I will use all this as a way of articulating a test of the quality of evidence within an argument. They are also passionately committed to figuring out which explanation is the strongest. If it isn’t, it’s failed the test, and the evidence is weak and maybe nonexistent. . Still, we possess lots of relevant evidence. Chomsky and Gould would come to a very different evaluation of the evidence. Thagard, Paul. Why was he gone for so long? Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list. 3. My theory is that these two songs came up last, not randomly, but because of all the Pink Martini songs, I listen to these two the most often. The notion of a theory is controversial in social science. INFERENCE TO THE BEST EXPLANATION In an inductive inference, we acquire a belief on the basis of evidence that is less than conclusive. He was quite emphatic that language was not “selected for” in our evolutionary history. t1. The short answer is that this is simply the nature of evidence. . The universals of language are so different from anything else in nature, and so quirky in their structure, that origin as a side consequence of the brain’s enhanced capacity, rather than a simple advance in continuity from ancestral grunts and gestures, seems indicated. Therefore there seems to be some rank ordering of the explanatory candidates, even if this is not explicitly stated. When he returned, there was a lipstick stain on his collar. After he left to return to Connie, Mary Jane smudged her lipstick with the back of her hand. The last two songs were “Lilly” and “Que Sera Sera.” The exact encore I had imagined the night before! Indeed, I am suggesting that any time we evaluate another’s potential evidence, we try as hard as possible to adopt the position of the ideal agnostic, knowing all along that we will fail in certain respects. You have to make the judgment about which explanation is best. See also Epistemology; Naturalized Epistemology; Realism. My imaginary agnostics . Theists, however, can easily hypothesize that both a uniquely human ability to acquire and use a natural language as well as mental syntax that structures human thought in a quasi-linguistic manner (a language of thought) are the products of an infinitely wise and beneficent creator.5. . If we look at the component words in this expression, we will discover quite a lot. Inference to the best explanation. The origin of language is explained through the theory of natural selection. Fortunately, I believe, explanatory plausibility is very different from beer preferences. She hears a bang and crying. The following comes from an article by two prominent cognitive scientists, Stephen Pinker and Paul Bloom: All human societies have language. 3. Its central claim is that loveliness is a guide to likeliness, that the explanation that would, if correct, provide the most understanding, is the explanation that is judged likeliest to be correct. List some serious (hopefully challenging) rival explanations. That involves the notion of causation, and also of inference. Natural selection produced larger, and more neurally dense, human brains. The best explanation is the one most likely to be true, even though there is no guarantee of its truth at there is in deductive inference. The best explanation is not necessarily the one we like the best, nor the one that best accords with our politics, religion, or moral perspectives. You conclude that they are friendsagain. Let’s first apply the test or recipe to the simple argument presented in the pop song “Lipstick on Your Collar” that we introduced in chapter 1. . Professor. This article explores the logic of inference to the best explanation and … What are we to make of the obvious fact that very intelligent and very honorable people disagree about where the evidence points? This view of explanation often reflects the practice of archaeological reasoning better than either the hypothetico-deductive method or hermeneutics. Inferences to the best explanation are common in scientific reasoning. indeed to achieve knowledge on that matter if it were possible. The whole recipe, therefore, rests on a step that is candidly, unavoidably subjective. Perhaps the stain really did come from Connie but not that evening at the record hop. Isn’t part of the reason for this, the fact that both of them introduce something “out of the blue” to explain the absence? The brain did not get big so we could read or write or do arithmetic or chart the seasons—yet human culture, as we know it, depends upon skills of this kind. Don’t Forget about the Final Assessment of the Evidence! We must decide whether these arguments are any good. Prompt #1: Examples of Inductive Inference. Language, Linguistics, and Literary Terms, best / best/ superlative of good. . The evidence will not entail that Moriarty is to blame, since it always remains possible that someone else was the perpetrator. t1. What principles lead us to infer one hypothesis rather than another? COMMON STYLES OF ARGUMENT INDUCTIVE GENERALIZATION | ARGUMENT from a GENERAL STATEMENT HYPOTHETICAL Argument | ARGUMENT from a SOURCE | The AD HOMINEM Fallacy London: Routledge, 1999. They present a good deal of data in support of their theory. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 31 (2000): 691–710. Another common complaint is that whatever the precise formulation of the rule, we can do without it for it must be inferior to Bayes’ rule. Contemporary grammars are no more complex than those of hunter-gatherers. The lipstick changed from pink to red because of a chemical reaction with his mother’s laundry detergent. One of my students, a philosophy minor who had taken several courses from me and knew all about inference to the best explanation offered a rival explanation of Pinker and Bloom’s evidence, which she argued was better than either t0 or t1. We use this type of reasoning to infer what would best explain the things that we see. Let me simply assert some factors that do not count in rank ordering explanations. As far as we know they always did; language was not invented by some groups and spread to others like agriculture or the alphabet. Nevertheless, Holmes is right to make his inference, since the supposition of Moriarty's guilt provides a better explanation of the evidence than does the supposition of anyone else's guilt. She is, however, intellectually curious and far from close-minded. . Conclude your analysis with one of the following two sentences: “. I have thought and written about these issues for my entire career. What I am going to call the inference-to-the-best-explanation (IBE) “recipe” is a procedure for answering these kinds of evaluative questions. Since we don’t, the best we can do is rely on evidence to help point us in the direction of the truth. t′0. 6. Inference to the best explanation. Helberta is positive that they did not do this last night. Perhaps the most common kind of inductive argument is called an inference to the best explanation. I care very deeply about arguments in the philosophy of religion and cognitive science. Inference to the best explanation is a form of inductive argument whose premises are a set of observed facts, a hypothesis that explains those observed facts, and a comparison of competing explanations, and whose conclusion is that the hypothesis is true. e4. (This argument about language is by no means original with me, though I ally myself fully with it; this line of reasoning follows directly as the evolutionary reading for Noam Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar.)3. First is a comparative step in which one hypothesis or theory is favored over one or more foils. In an inductive inference, we acquire a belief on the basis of evidence that is less than conclusive. First, in order for there to be a comparison, there must be other possible explanations of the data in the argument, rival explanations. Sherry can infer that her toddler is hurt or scared. Here’s how I would schematize Connie’s evidence for her theory that her boyfriend had been smooching Mary Jane when he left her alone at the record hop. Holmes had evidence about Watson’s decision about the investment and about what happened at Ridling Thorpe Manor. The new belief is compatible with the evidence, but so are (possibly many) competing hypotheses that we are unwilling to infer. Joyclynn Potter would agree with Chomsky and Gould but for a very different reason. Try the Course for Free. Many inferences are naturally described in this way. One of the most common inferences in life is the inference to the best explanation (sometimes called abductive reasoning). Inference to the Best Explanation, 2nd ed. In addition to offering a description of our inductive practices, Inference to the Best Explanation has been used to justify them, to show that those hypotheses we judge likely to be correct really are so. ∎ most enjoy…, The phrase "philosophy of science" can be used most broadly to describe two different, though related, sorts of inquiry. They are capable of inventing languages that are more systematic than those they hear, showing resemblances to languages that they have never heard, and obey grammatical principles for which there is no evidence in their environments. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001. The LibreTexts libraries are Powered by MindTouch® and are supported by the Department of Education Open Textbook Pilot Project, the UC Davis Office of the Provost, the UC Davis Library, the California State University Affordable Learning Solutions Program, and Merlot. For all the talk about intersubjectivity, I fully realize that some of you will have ranked t3 ahead of t0. Therefore, she would also say that the evidence in their article is poor. Enumerative induction X … In these easy cases, which I believe constitute the vast majority of times when we consciously evaluate evidence, inference to the best explanation brings us close to the standard of knowledge we developed in chapter 3. He proposes an audience for arguments (at least those that occur in philosophical debates) that is psychologically impossible but is useful to imagine nonetheless. The single most common mistake that my students make, including some of the best and most intelligent, is to forget about the purpose of the recipe and neglect to offer an assessment of the evidence in the argument. . Therefore, the evidence presented in the article is poor. boy with chocolate around mouth Simple Definitions of Inference. Inference to the Best Explanation. Please take a moment to try your hand at schematizing Pinker and Bloom’s argument before reading further. Professor . For our purposes, rival explanations will be accounts of the data that flat-out deny the original explanation and substitute a completely different story of the data offered as evidence. . On July 20, 2013, an article appeared in the New York Times arguing that female family members can make males more generous. Encyclopedia of Philosophy. While reading and grading Joci’s exam and later while collaborating with her, I came to agree even more strongly with Pinker and Bloom. When confronted, he claimed that the stain came from Connie’s lipstick. It is a way of looking at evidence or at least purported evidence in an inductive argument. The grammars of industrial societies are no more complex than the grammars of hunter-gatherers. . One of these is to show that these aspects of loveliness do indeed match judgments of likeliness, that the loveliest explanations tend also to be those that are judged likeliest to be correct. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/opinion/sunday/why-men-need-women.html, 5. Okasha, Samir. And as the history of science or contemporary debates in jurisprudence and cognitive science tell us, we simply have to expect a certain amount of reasoned disagreement. When he returned and was asked about the stain, he told Connie it was hers because she was the only one he had been smooching. It is a way of looking at evidence or at least purported evidence in an inductive argument. The ability to use a natural language belongs more to the study of human biology than human culture; it is a topic like echolocation in bats or stereopsis in monkeys, not like writing or the wheel. These loose similarities were codified in the last chapter (Section 7) in a two-step characterization. . But analyzing these and other explanatory virtues is not easy, and it also leaves the other two challenges. In the scenario I just mentioned, you observed three facts: a broken window, a missing television, and footprints. Inference to the Best Explanation can be seen as an extension of the idea of "self-evidencing" explanations, where the phenomenon that is explained in turn provides an essential part of the reason for believing the explanation is correct. Jerome H. Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Toby (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 451. . We were successful!4. Or an account might offer a more (or less) detailed account of what happened. Inference to the Best Explanation can be seen as an extension of the idea of `self-evidencing' explanations, where the phenomenon that is explained in turn … . Harman, Gilbert. What happens in the recipe when the original and one of the rivals are tied for first place? 1. Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Jeffery L. Johnson and Joyclynn Potter, “The Argument from Language and the Existence of God,” Journal of Religion 85, no. Her belief is a cornerstone of who she is and how she thinks. But she dramatically disagreed with her teacher and ranked the three hypotheses as follows: What in the world do we do about passionate, but reasoned, disagreement? He was gone for half an hour or more. ." The uniquely human ability to acquire and use a natural language is a gift from God. t0. Legal. We are the most intelligent species that has ever existed, and part of being intelligent is being darn good at spotting the best explanation of what’s happening around us. When we are presenting our own argument, I would also suggest that we pretend our audience is not composed of partisans but rather ideal agnostics. They don’t care which position . The idea being that when faced with a set of competing hypotheses all covering the data (evidence), the hypothesis that best explains it is the one more likely to be true. The model should thus be construed as "Inference to the Loveliest Explanation." Now someone tells you that she just sawTim and Harry jogging together. The only way to explain the origin of language is through the theory of natural selection. 1 (January 2005). example, explain why the sun rises tomorrow. 4. Or the circumstances might be more sinister. ." So what else might have happened? It was a “side consequence” that these brains gave us such remarkable language abilities. When asked about the lipstick stain, he responded that it came from Connie, since she was the only one he had been smooching. What are the odds of this? Mary Jane had been smooching a new guy she met at the record hop, and this messed up her lipstick. Several years ago, I was teaching a philosophical psychology course, and as a part of it, I had my students read Pinker and Bloom’s article and the one by Stephen Jay Gould from which I have taken the above quote. t″0. They often beautifully schematize it, come up with some challenging rival explanations, and offer subtle and insightful comments about how and why they have rank ordered as they have but then remain silent on the quality of the evidence.

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