Inference to the best explanation

  • June 10, 2013 · 7:00 PM
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Consilience, or "abudction," are what philosophers call an important way of reasoning: inference to the best explanation. Arguably, it was what Sherlock Holmes deployed (despite Conan Doyle's use of the improper term "deduction" for Holmes' modus operandi), and it is the foundation of modern scientific thinking. Yet, consilience is a surprisingly controversial concept, sometimes misapplied by scientists themselves. Join us for a discussion of what inference to the best explanation is and is not, unusually featuring two background readings: a short article in Philosophy Now, and a longer essay by our host, Massimo Pigliucci, published in Aeon magazine.

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  • Sheryl

    An interesting topic which led to very interesting discussion. Really enjoyed it.

    1 · June 12, 2013

  • Yen

    Another "5-Light Bulb" philosophy dinner hosted by Massimo. Therefore the best explanation is that all dinners hosted by Massimo are "5-Light Bulbs."

    1 · June 12, 2013

    • Yen

      I intended to place a "?" and a smiley face at end of the second sentence. :D

      1 · June 12, 2013

  • Beth Z.

    Can't get away from work in time :(

    June 10, 2013

  • Massimo


    be careful about throwing accusations of incoherence to people, it's a high charge, and I'm pretty it doesn't stick in this case.

    Also, what's with the idea that god gave us reason? You haven't heard the news? There is no evidence of the existence of gods, and reason came through a process of evolution - which is why it's so imperfect, clearly.

    1 · June 9, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    Is there 1 person who knows, cares, or thinks about thermodynamics? Are we studying thinking or are we studying scientists with theories that maybe worthless? This is impractical for me.

    "There might be better ways to organise our knowledge in some absolute sense, but perhaps what we have
    come up with is something that works well for us, as biological-cultural beings with a certain history."

    Humans were given the ability to reason by God. The first problem necessary to solve is each individual must be taught how to reason and then we can advance. The assumption that people are born with common sense is ridiculous.

    June 9, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Dr. Carey's explanation is incoherent. I would like to be at the next meeting on this subject. My suggestion is to focus on risk by comparing the risk of terrorism to the risk of climate change.

    June 9, 2013

  • Pat G.

    In my undergrad I worked for a professor who studied formal induction; here's part of a book he wrote about it (I linked this for the Sherlock Holmes meetup, but it's even more relevant here):

    The maturity of this topic in philosophy is such that machine learning people are working on it too :)

    1 · May 23, 2013

    • Greg

      I also hold that explanation may help humans in understanding things, and may be useful in hypothesis generation - however, neither of these things is actually INFERENCE to the best explanation.

      May 28, 2013

    • Pat G.

      I don't think expecting guarantees in science is healthy. So long as it's useful in approaching problems that humans do, it will presumably shed light (eventually) on cognition, even if obliquely.

      May 29, 2013

  • Massimo

    RSVP for this event will open two weeks before the date, stay tuned!

    May 23, 2013

  • badiane

    Inductive and abductive reasoning are usually more prone to error than deductive, but the latter less so than the former. In many TV shows, it's used to represent intelligence and has the aura of prestidigitation, slights of mind not to say magic and I find that to be so annoying. The more one conforms to accepted notions, more predictable they are; the less they do the more difficult it is to rely on abduction.

    Inference to the best explanation is not a problem in itself; it's when the person doesn't realize that the "best explanation" isn't the same as the correct explanation from deduction. Conclusive states may be very similar and are differentiated by arguments which logically bind them to their premises. Instead of using deduction, many quickly recall from a list (mental or actual) of definitions all that might be related to what they are observing, thereby short-circuiting the whole process of having to ratiocinate.

    It's too often about appearing intelligent.

    1 · May 23, 2013

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