Belief is Not the Issue: A Defence of Inference to the Best Explanation

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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
  Belief is Not the Issue: A Defence of Inference to the Best Explanation Gregory W. Dawes This is a pre-publication copy of the following article: “Belief is Not the Issue: A Defence of Inference to the Best Explanation,which has been publishe! in final for" at http:##onlinelibrary$wiley$co"#!oi#%&$%%%%#'$%()*-++$&%$&&.*$x#abstractThis !raft paper is license! un!er the/reati0e /o""ons Attribution-1hare Ali2e $& 3icense$ 4ou are free to cite this "aterial pro0i!e! you attribute it to its author5you "ay also "a2e copies,but you "ust inclu!e the author6s na"e an! a copy of this licence$http:##creati0eco""ons$org#licenses#by-sa#$&# Abstract Defences of inference to the best explanation 7IBE8 fre9uently associate IBE with scientific realis", the i!ea that it is reason-able to belie0e our best scientific theories$ I argue that this lin2-age is unfortunate$ IBE !oes not warrant belief, since the fact that a theory is the best a0ailable explanation !oes not show it to be 7e0en probably8 true$ hat IBE !oes warrant is accept-ance: ta2ing a proposition as a pre"ise in theoretical an!#or practical reasoning$ e ought to accept our best scientific theor-ies since they are the theories that are "ost li2ely to lea! to the goal of science, which is that of 2nowle!ge$ In support of this clai" I in0o2e Bill 3ycan6s ;anglossian reflections regar!ing <other Nature$ % % I a" grateful to Alan <usgra0e for !iscussions, often o0er lunch, regar!ing the sub'ect of this paper$ hile I !on6t expect hi" to accept "y conclusions, I loo2 forwar! to further li0ely !ebates$ 1  Introuction  A fre9uent pattern of reasoning, both in the sciences an! in e0ery!ay life, is that 2nown as =inference to the best explanation6 7IBE8$ >ere6-s an e0ery!ay exa"ple$ =I hear a scratching in the wall, the patter of little feet at "i!night, "y cheese !isappears ? an! I infer that a "ouse has co"e to li0e with "e6$   Each of these pheno"ena ? the scratching, the patter, the !isappearance of the cheese ? coul! ha0e another explanation$ There "ight e0en exist a single, alternati0e ex-planation that co0ers the" all$ But for a 0ariety of reasons, such as si"plicity, econo"y, an! plausibility, the "ouse hypothesis see"s to be the best$>ere6s another exa"ple$ In %@.+ /harles Darwin publishe! On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection $ In that wor2 he cites a 0ariety of pheno"ena ? the geographical !istribution of spe-cies, the existence of ho"ologous anato"ic structures an! 0estigial organs, the rese"blance of e"bryos of !iffering species, an! the fossil recor! ? an! suggests they are better explaine! gi0en his the-ory of natural selection than on the alternati0e 0iew of special cre-ation$ >is conte"poraries woul! ha0e !escribe! this as a =consilience of in!uctions6, in which a range of !ifferent pheno"ena are seen to be explicable by reference to the one causal principle$   But particu-larly since Darwin was contrasting this potential explanation with another ? that of special creation (  ? it is "ore helpfully 0iewe! as an inference to the best explanation$1ince this pattern of explanation was gi0en its "o!ern na"e by ilbert >ar"an in %+)., .  its significance has been !ispute!$ ust what, if anything, shoul! be the conclusion of an inference of this 2in!C Does the fact that so"ething is the best a0ailable explanation  Bas /$ 0an raassen, The Scientific Image /laren!on 3ibrary of 3ogic an! ;hilosophy 7xfor!: /laren!on ;ress, %+@&8, pp$%+?&$  ohn 3osee,  A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science r! e!i-tion5   pus Boo2s 7xfor!: xfor! Fni0ersity ;ress, %++8, p$%$ ( Neal /$ illespie, Charles Darin and the Problem of Creation  7/hicago: Fni0ersity of /hicago ;ress, %+*+8, pp$)*?@%$ . ilbert >$ >ar"an, =The Inference to the Best Explanation6, The Philo!sophical "e#ie  *( 7%+).8, pp$@@?+.$ !  gi0e us a!e9uate reason to belie0e in the existence of the entities that it "entionsC r shoul! we withhol! belief, since the explanation in 9uestion "ay be nothing "ore than =the best of a ba! lot6C )  In!ee!, is there any 0alue in this line of reasoning at allC Is it, perhaps, nothing "ore than a !resse!-up 0ersion of the fallacy of affir"ing the conse9uentC  A notable feature of these !iscussions is that they are associate! with wi!er !ebates regar!ing scientific realis"$ Do we ha0e a!-e9uate reason to regar! our best scientific theories as 7approxi"ately or partially8 true, e0en when they spea2 of entities we coul! ne0er obser0eC r shoul! we conclu!e "erely that our best theories are =e"pirically a!e9uate6, offering a correct account of the obser0able regularities of our worl!C As it happens, "ost !efen!ers of IBE ha0e been scientific realists, who refuse to belie0e =that a false theory woul! explain, in so satisfactory a "anner G se0eral large classes of facts6$ *  <any opponents, on the other han!, ha0e been non-realists, who oppose the i!ea that IBE warrants belief, particularly belief in unobser0able entities$It is wi!ely ac2nowle!ge!, e0en by realists, that the non-realists ha0e a point$ After all, to belie0e a theory "eans hol!ing it to be true, an! we cannot si"ply assu"e that the best a0ailable explana-tion will be the true one$ The proble" here is twofol!$ irstly, the true explanation "ay be one we ha0e not yet !isco0ere!$ 1econ!ly, at least so"e of the criteria by which we 'u!ge an explanation to be the best a0ailable 7such as si"plicity8 are not clearly truth-in!icati0e$But shoul! the !ebate regar!ing IBE be so closely relate! to that regar!ing realis"C <y argu"ent is that this lin2age has been unfor-tunate$ It is focuse! attention on the 9uestion of whether IBE gi0es us a!e9uate reason to belie0e a theory, that is to say, to hol! it to be true$ It is this focus on belief that I shall argue is unhelpful$ The i"-portant issue, as far as IBE is concerne!, is not whether we ha0e a!-e9uate reason to belie#e  a theory, but whether we ha0e a!e9uate reason to accept  it$ Acceptance, I shall argue, will often go han!-in- ) Bas /$ 0an raassen, $as and Symmetry 7xfor!: xfor! Fni0ersity ;ress, %+@+8, p$%($ * /harles Darwin, On the Origin of Species n! e!ition 73on!on: ohn <ur-ray, %@)&8, pp$(@&?@%$ "  han! with belief, but it nee! not !o so$ Nor is it i"portant that it shoul!$ It is sufficient for the progress of science, that scientists shoul! accept the best a0ailable explanation, whether or not they happen to belie0e it$ <ore i"portantly, we ha0e excellent reasons to accept the best a0ailable explanation, e#en if   7as non-realists argue8 we ha0e little or no reason to hol! it to be true$ Belief, in other wor!s, is not the issue$ 1. Acceptance an Belief <y argu"ent, therefore, relies on being able to "a2e a clear !istinc-tion between acceptance an! belief$ I a" not basing this !istinction on the way in which these ter"s are actually use!, in e0ery!ay speech$ It "ay be the case that in e0ery!ay usage, acceptance is  of-ten synony"ous with belief$ hat I a" arguing is that these ter"s can be use! to capture a real !istinction in propositional attitu!es$ To accept a proposition is not necessarily to belie0e it, e0en if the two often go together$ There is nothing special about "y use of the wor! =acceptance6 here$ The !istinction coul!, perhaps, be capture! by us-ing another wor!, such as =assent6$ @  But tal2 of acceptance an! belief is a helpful way of i!entifying two propositional attitu!es that are !istinct e0en if co""only con'oine!$ A nu"ber of recent authors ha0e also atte"pte! to !istinguish between belief an! acceptance$ +  But they ha0e !one so for a 0ariety of purposes an! in a 0ariety of ways$ 1o"e !efinitions of what it "eans to accept  a proposition "a2e acceptance in!istinguishable fro" belief$ D$ 1$ /lar2e, for instance, insists that acceptance actu-ally entails belief, but assu"es a broa! 0iew of acceptance that I @ illia" ;$ Alston, =Belief, Acceptance, an! Heligious aith6, in %aith& %ree!dom& and "ationality' Philosophy of "eligion Today , e!ite! by $ or!an an! D$ >owar!-1ny!er 73on!on: How"an  3ittlefiel!, %++)8, pp$?*, at p$@$ + These inclu!e inclu!ing illia" Alston, <ichael Brat"an, 3$ onathan /ohen, Jeith 3ehrer, ohn ;erry, Hobert 1talna2er, an! Bas 0an raassen: see ;ascal Engel, =Intro!uction6 in  (elie#ing and Accepting  , e!-ite! by ;ascal Engel, ;hilosophical 1tu!ies 1eries @ 7Dor!recht: Jluwer, &&&8, pp$%?&, at p$@, as well as the literature cite! below$ #  shall shortly re'ect$ %&  1i"ilarly, ;aul >orwich argues that accept-ance is functionally i!entical with belief, but assu"es an instru-"entalist 0iew of acceptance ? =belie0ing 'ust the obser0able con-se9uences of a theory6 %%  ? that I also re'ect$ ne can also !efine belief in ways that un!er"ine this !istinction$ >er"an !e Hegt, for in-stance, !efines belief as =a !isposition to act6$ %  But if one !efines be-lief in ter"s of a !isposition to act, then it is practically in!istin-guishable fro" what I shall call =acceptance6$ 1.1 Assu$ptions %egaring Belief 1o what I nee! for the purposes of "y argu"ent is a wor2able concept of acceptance$ I shall spen! little ti"e on what I "ean by be-lief$ I a" assu"ing that to belie0e so"ething is to consi!er it to be true, the =so"ething6 here being concei0e! of as a proposition, an ut-terance, or so"e other bearer of "eaning$ Fn!erstoo! in this way, belief is not to be thought of as a !isposition to act, nor e0en as a !is-position to assert$ It can be !efine! as a !isposition, but its "ost characteristic feature is a ten!ency to experience a certain 2in! of "ental state$ Belief is, as 3$ onathan /ohen writes, a !isposition, when one is atten!ing to issues raise!, or ite"s re-ferre! to, by the proposition that p, nor"ally to feel it true that  p an! false that not-  p , whether or not one is willing to act, spea2, or reason accor!ingly$ %  A person who has such a !isposition will, if she is acting rationally an! has no reason to !o otherwise, be incline! to act in ways that are consistent with her belief$ 1he will also be incline!, other things be-ing e9ual, to assert the truth of that which she belie0es$ 7Belief can %& D$ 1$ /lar2e, =Does Acceptance Entail BeliefC6,  American Philosophical )uarterly  % 7%++(8, pp$%(.?.., at p$%(+$ %% ;aul >orwich, =n the Nature an! Nor"s of Theoretical /o""it"ent6,  Philosophy of Science  .@ 7%++%8, pp$%?%(, at p$$ % >er"an /$ D$ $ !e Hegt, =To Belie0e in Belief: ;opper an! 0an raassen on 1cientific Healis"6, *ournal for +eneral Philosophy of Science , -eits!chrift f.r allgemeine /issenschaftstheorie  * 7&&)8, pp$%?+, at p$$ % 3$ onathan /ohen,  An 0ssay on (elief and Acceptance 7xfor!: /laren!on ;ress, %++8, p$($ &
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