•  857
    Scientific progress: Knowledge versus understanding
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 56 72-83. 2016.
    What is scientific progress? On Alexander Bird’s epistemic account of scientific progress, an episode in science is progressive precisely when there is more scientific knowledge at the end of the episode than at the beginning. Using Bird’s epistemic account as a foil, this paper develops an alternative understanding-based account on which an episode in science is progressive precisely when scientists grasp how to correctly explain or predict more aspects of the world at the end of the episode th…Read more
  •  564
    Explanatory Rivals and the Ultimate Argument
    Theoria 82 (3): 217-237. 2015.
    Although many aspects of Inference to the Best Explanation have been extensively discussed, very little has so far been said about what it takes for a hypothesis to count as a rival explanatory hypothesis in the context of IBE. The primary aim of this article is to rectify this situation by arguing for a specific account of explanatory rivalry. On this account, explanatory rivals are complete explanations of a given explanandum. When explanatory rivals are conceived of in this way, I argue that …Read more
  •  547
    Certainty and Explanation in Descartes’s Philosophy of Science
    Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 7 (2): 302-327. 2017.
    This paper presents a new approach to resolving an apparent tension in Descartes’ discussion of scientific theories and explanations in the Principles of Philosophy. On the one hand, Descartes repeatedly claims that any theories presented in science must be certain and indubitable. On the other hand, Descartes himself presents an astonishing number of speculative explanations of various scientific phenomena. In response to this tension, commentators have suggested that Descartes changed his mind…Read more
  •  537
    Scientific progress: Four accounts
    Philosophy Compass 13 (11). 2018.
    Scientists are constantly making observations, carrying out experiments, and analyzing empirical data. Meanwhile, scientific theories are routinely being adopted, revised, discarded, and replaced. But when are such changes to the content of science improvements on what came before? This is the question of scientific progress. One answer is that progress occurs when scientific theories ‘get closer to the truth’, i.e. increase their degree of truthlikeness. A second answer is that progress consist…Read more
  •  530
    Understanding without Justification or Belief
    Ratio 30 (3): 239-254. 2017.
    In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest among epistemologists in the nature of understanding, with some authors arguing that understanding should replace knowledge as the primary focus of epistemology. But what is understanding? According to what is often called the standard view, understanding is a species of knowledge. Although this view has recently been challenged in various ways, even the critics of the standard view have assumed that understanding requires justification and…Read more
  •  522
    The Epistemic Value of Expert Autonomy
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2): 344-361. 2018.
    According to an influential Enlightenment ideal, one shouldn't rely epistemically on other people's say-so, at least not if one is in a position to evaluate the relevant evidence for oneself. However, in much recent work in social epistemology, we are urged to dispense with this ideal, which is seen as stemming from a misguided focus on isolated individuals to the exclusion of groups and communities. In this paper, I argue that that an emphasis on the social nature of inquiry should not lead us …Read more
  •  411
    We report the results of a study that investigated the views of researchers working in seven scientific disciplines and in history and philosophy of science in regard to four hypothesized dimensions of scientific realism. Among other things, we found that natural scientists tended to express more strongly realist views than social scientists, that history and philosophy of science scholars tended to express more antirealist views than natural scientists, that van Fraassen’s characterization of s…Read more
  •  376
    Beyond Explanation: Understanding as Dependency Modeling
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 2018.
    This paper presents and argues for an account of objectual understanding that aims to do justice to the full range of cases of scientific understanding, including cases in which one does not have an explanation of the understood phenomenon. According to the proposed account, one understands a phenomenon just in case one grasps a sufficiently accurate and comprehensive model of the ways in which it or its features are situated within a network of dependence relations; one’s degree of understandin…Read more
  •  351
    Reconstructed Empiricism
    Acta Analytica 32 (1): 95-113. 2017.
    According to Bas van Fraassen, scientific realists and anti-realists disagree about whether accepting a scientific theory involves believing that the theory is true. On van Fraassen’s own anti-realist empiricist position, accepting a theory involves believing only that the theory is correct in its claims about observable aspects of the world. However, a number of philosophers have argued that acceptance and belief cannot be distinguished and thus that the debate is either confused or trivially s…Read more
  •  291
    We report the results of an exploratory study that examines the judgments of climate scientists, climate policy experts, astrophysicists, and non-experts (N = 3367) about the factors that contribute to the creation and persistence of disagreement within climate science and astrophysics and about how one should respond to expert disagreement. We found that, as compared to non-experts, climate experts believe that within climate science (i) there is less disagreement about climate change, (ii) met…Read more
  •  280
    There May Yet be Non-causal Explanations
    Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 47 (2): 377-384. 2016.
    There are many putative counterexamples to the view that all scientific explanations are causal explanations. Using a new theory of what it is to be a causal explanation, Bradford Skow has recently argued that several of the putative counterexamples fail to be non-causal. This paper defends some of the counterexamples by showing how Skow’s argument relies on an overly permissive theory of causal explanations.
  •  269
    Abductively Robust Inference
    Analysis 77 (1): 20-29. 2017.
    Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) is widely criticized for being an unreliable form of ampliative inference – partly because the explanatory hypotheses we have considered at a given time may all be false, and partly because there is an asymmetry between the comparative judgment on which an IBE is based and the absolute verdict that IBE is meant to license. In this paper, I present a further reason to doubt the epistemic merits of IBE and argue that it motivates moving to an inferential pat…Read more
  •  244
    Realism and the absence of rivals
    Synthese 194 (7): 2427-2446. 2017.
    Among the most serious challenges to scientific realism are arguments for the underdetermination of theory by evidence. This paper defends a version of scientific realism against what is perhaps the most influential recent argument of this sort, viz. Kyle Stanford’s New Induction over the History of Science. An essential part of the defense consists in a probabilistic analysis of the slogan “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. On this basis it is argued that the likelihood of a theo…Read more
  •  242
    Should Scientific Realists Embrace Theoretical Conservatism?
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 30-38. 2018.
    A prominent type of scientific realism holds that some important parts of our best current scientific theories are at least approximately true. According to such realists, radically distinct alternatives to these theories or theory-parts are unlikely to be approximately true. Thus one might be tempted to argue, as the prominent anti-realist Kyle Stanford recently did, that realists of this kind have little or no reason to encourage scientists to attempt to identify and develop theoretical altern…Read more
  •  215
    To understand something involves some sort of commitment to a set of propositions comprising an account of the understood phenomenon. Some take this commitment to be a species of belief; others, such as Elgin and I, take it to be a kind of cognitive policy. This paper takes a step back from debates about the nature of understanding and asks when this commitment involved in understanding is epistemically appropriate, or `acceptable' in Elgin's terminology. In particular, appealing to lessons from…Read more
  •  201
    Scientific Progress, Understanding, and Knowledge: Reply to Park
    Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 49 (3): 451-459. 2018.
    Dellsén has recently argued for an understanding-based account of scientific progress, the noetic account, according to which science makes cognitive progress precisely when it increases our understanding of some aspect of the world. I contrast this account with Bird’s ; epistemic account, according to which such progress is made precisely when our knowledge of the world is increased or accumulated. In a recent paper, Park criticizes various aspects of my account and his arguments in favor of th…Read more
  •  178
    The Beliefs and Intentions of Buridan's Ass
    Journal of the American Philosophical Association 3 (2): 209-226. 2017.
    The moral of Buridan's Ass is that it can sometimes be rational to perform one action rather than another even though one lacks stronger reason to do so. Yet it is also commonly believed that it cannot ever be rational to believe one proposition rather than another if one lacks stronger reason to do so. This asymmetry has been taken to indicate a deep difference between epistemic and practical rationality. According to the view articulated here, the asymmetry should instead be explained by the d…Read more
  •  176
    The heuristic conception of inference to the best explanation
    Philosophical Studies 175 (7): 1745-1766. 2018.
    An influential suggestion about the relationship between Bayesianism and inference to the best explanation holds that IBE functions as a heuristic to approximate Bayesian reasoning. While this view promises to unify Bayesianism and IBE in a very attractive manner, important elements of the view have not yet been spelled out in detail. I present and argue for a heuristic conception of IBE on which IBE serves primarily to locate the most probable available explanatory hypothesis to serve as a work…Read more
  •  170
    When Expert Disagreement Supports the Consensus
    Australasian Journal of Philosophy 96 (1): 142-156. 2018.
    It is often suggested that disagreement among scientific experts is a reason not to trust those experts, even about matters on which they are in agreement. In direct opposition to this view, I argue here that the very fact that there is disagreement among experts on a given issue provides a positive reason for non-experts to trust that the experts really are justified in their attitudes towards consensus theories. I show how this line of thought can be spelled out in three distinct frameworks fo…Read more
  •  170
    It is often argued that while biases routinely influence the generation of scientific theories (in the ‘context of discovery’), a subsequent rational evaluation of such theories (in the ‘context of justification’) will ensure that biases do not affect which theories are ultimately accepted. Against this line of thought, this paper shows that the existence of certain kinds of biases at the generation-stage implies the existence of biases at the evaluation-stage. The key argumentative move is to r…Read more
  •  169
    Reactionary responses to the Bad Lot Objection
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 61 32-40. 2017.
    As it is standardly conceived, Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) is a form of ampliative inference in which one infers a hypothesis because it provides a better potential explanation of one’s evidence than any other available, competing explanatory hypothesis. Bas van Fraassen famously objected to IBE thus formulated that we may have no reason to think that any of the available, competing explanatory hypotheses are true. While revisionary responses to the Bad Lot Objection concede that IBE…Read more
  •  168
    Deductive Cogency, understanding, and acceptance
    Synthese 195 (7): 3121-3141. 2018.
    Deductive Cogency holds that the set of propositions towards which one has, or is prepared to have, a given type of propositional attitude should be consistent and closed under logical consequence. While there are many propositional attitudes that are not subject to this requirement, e.g. hoping and imagining, it is at least prima facie plausible that Deductive Cogency applies to the doxastic attitude involved in propositional knowledge, viz. belief. However, this thought is undermined by the we…Read more
  •  166
    The Epistemic Significance of Disagreement (review)
    Philosophical Quarterly 67 (269): 866-868. 2017.
    Suppose you and I are equally well informed on some factual issue and equally competent in forming beliefs on the basis of the information we possess. Having evaluated this information, each of us independently forms a belief on the issue. However, since neither of us is infallible, we may end up with contrary beliefs. How should I react if I discover that we disagree in this way? According to conciliatory views in the epistemology of disagreement, I should modify my original opinion by moving c…Read more
  •  159
    Book review of Paul Horwich, Probability and Evidence (Cambridge Philosophy Classics edition), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016, 147pp, £14.99 (paperback).
  •  106
    Promotion as contrastive increase in expected fit
    Philosophical Studies 176 (5): 1263-1290. 2019.
    What is required for an action to promote the satisfaction of a desire? We reject extant answers and propose an alternative. Our account differs from competing answers in two ways: first, it is contrastive, in that actions promote the satisfaction of desires only as contrasted with other possible actions. Second, it employs a notion of expected fit between desire and world, defined as the weighted sum of the fit between the desire and the world in all possible outcomes, where each weight is give…Read more
  •  106
    Tvö viðhorf til vísindalegrar þekkingar -- eða eitt?
    Ritið -- Tímarit Hugvísindastofnunar 15 (1): 135-155. 2015.
    There are two main approaches to the epistemology of science. On the one hand, some hold that a scientific hypothesis is confirmed to the extent that the hypothesis explains the evidence better than alternative hypotheses concerning the same subject-matter. This idea is often referred to as Inference to the Best Explanation. On the other hand, some hold that a scientific hypothesis is confirmed to the extent that the hypothesis is probable given the evidence. This idea is often associated with B…Read more
  •  75
    Explanatory Consolidation: From 'Best' to 'Good Enough'
    Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. forthcoming.
    In science and everyday life, we often infer that something is true because it would explain some set of facts better than any other hypothesis we can think of. But what if we have reason to believe that there is a better way to explain these facts that we just haven't thought of? Wouldn't that undermine our warrant for believing the best available explanation? Many philosophers have assumed that we can solve such underconsideration problems by stipulating that a hypothesis should not only be 't…Read more