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Paper   IPM / Philosophy / 8085
School of Analytic Philosophy
  Title:   Realism and the epistemological significance of inference to the best explanation
  Author(s):  H. Vahid
  Status:   Published
  Journal: Dialogue XL
  Year:  2001
  Pages:   487-507
  Supported by:  IPM
Despite its widespread application, inference to the best explanation (IBE) has often been viewed with suspicion by theorists of various persuasions. It has repeatedly been criticized on the ground that its use of simplicity, and other explanatory virtues either rest on dubious metaphysical assumptions, or is not truth-conducive. In this paper I shall address these issues in the context of an extensive discussion of the use of IBE in grounding our belief in the external world. Having criticized various attempts in this regard, I turn to the problem of the nature of explanatory virtues arguing that, because of the epistemically barren context of the realism debate, IBE is unable to establish any of the competing hypotheses. Finally, distinguishing between the legitimacy and effectiveness of IBE, I shall argue that while it is a legitimate form of inference, its effectiveness depends on the function of the background theory of knowledge on which it rides piggyback. By taking note of these points, it is claimed, we can explain both why the disputants often seem to be talking at cross-purposes to each other, and also the ambivalent attitudes adopted towards the legitimacy of IBE.

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