Locating IBE in the Bayesian Framework

Synthese, 2009, 167(1): 125–43

Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) and Bayesianism are our two most prominent theories of scientific inference. Are they compatible? Van Fraassen famously argued that they are not, concluding that IBE must be wrong since Bayesianism is right. Writers since then, from both the Bayesian and explanationist camps, have usually considered van Fraassen’s argument to be misguided, and have plumped for the view that Bayesianism and IBE are actually compatible. I argue that van Fraassen’s argument is actually not so misguided, and that it causes more trouble for compatibilists than is typically thought. Bayesianism in its dominant, subjectivist form, can only be made compatible with IBE if IBE is made subservient to conditionalization in a way that robs IBE of much of its substance and interest. If Bayesianism and IBE are to be fit together, I argue, a strongly objective Bayesianism is the preferred option. I go on to sketch this objectivist, IBE-based Bayesianism, and offer some preliminary suggestions for its development.