Textbook Notes (362,768)
Canada (158,052)
Philosophy (101)
PP201 (27)


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Wilfrid Laurier University
Hugh R Alcock

Inference to the Best Explanation Imagine asking a friend Why did Freds boat sink in calm weather and receiving the reply No reason it just sankMost likely youd not accept this explanation or more precisely lack of one That is because you suppose that nothing happens without a reasonThe seventeenth century philosopher GW Leibniz famously described this thought as what he called the Principle of Sufficient Reason which he articulated as followsThere can be found no fact that is true or existentwithout there being a sufficient reason for its Monadologybeing so and not otherwise although we cannot know these reasons in most cases31In other words everything is in principle explainable but determining what the right explanation is is not always easyThere is a frustrating gap between what we think is the case and what is in fact the case Coming up with a satisfactory explanation for a phenomenon or event does not guarantee that it is true ie that it describes why something in fact happenedWhat makes matters worse is that often there are several plausible explanations for some phenomenonIndeed it is extremely rare that a phenomenon is explainable in one way aloneWhy do you think that is the caseConsider the following imaginary scenarioYou step out from your front door to see written on your snowcovered front lawn I LOVE MARTHA and Martha is nobody you knowHow might you explain this1 Its an act of benign vandalism by a drunken reveller the night before2 Someone mistakenly believed Martha lived in your house and wrote the message to her3 A squirrel accidentally made a path that spells out the words I LOVE MARTHA4 Aliens landed on your lawn and left this message in an attempt to contact the human raceWe could go on There are any number of possible explanationsBut of course not all explanations are equal We accept some explanations to be more plausible than othersAnd most importantly we understand that some explanation must be true even if it isnt one we have thought ofIn the court of law for example criminal trials very often concern competing explanations of an event eg a murderThe defence and the prosecution essentially offer the jury opposing explanationsone that exonerates the defendant and another that incriminates him respectivelyThe jurys task is in essence to decide which is the best explanation that is the explanation that is assumed to be true and according to which the defendant is either penalised or releasedIn general this process is known as inference to the best explanation
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