University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics and Astronomy Calendar

Friday, September 9th 2016
Speaker: Dr. Michel Janssen, Physics/History of Science and Technology
Subject: "Common Origin Ideas"
Refreshments served at 3:15 p.m.

In 2002, I introduced COI (Common Origin Inference) as a subspecies of IBE (Inference to the Best Explanation). I hoped to avoid problems with the 'E' by noting that the kind of explanation involved in COI (tracing striking coincidences to a common origin) should pass muster on any philosophically satisfactory account of explanation. Following Peter Lipton, I hoped to steer clear of the problem with the 'B' by taking IBE simply to be a slogan for any kind of inference guided by explanatory considerations. I stood firm on the 'I', arguing that the use of COI in various episodes from the history of science shows that, pace Bas van Fraassen, explanations can have epistemic value (i.e., can themselves be a reason to believe in the explanation).

I have changed my mind on this last count, at least when it comes to the use of COI and IBE in science. On closer examination, COI served not so much as an engine for transferring truth values from premises to conclusions (as inferences would) but as an engine for generating pursuit-worthy ideas. In general, evidence for such ideas must be generated in other ways.

In view of this, I want to redefine the 'I' in COI from 'Inference' to 'Idea'. This may be the best defense against the main charge Wes Salmon brought against IBE in a debate with Lipton published in 2001: Why should likeliness track loveliness? Why should a lovely explanation be more likely than an ugly one? Surrendering the I in COI and IBE, one can retreat to the position that pursuit-worthiness tracks loveliness, a line that is much easier to hold.

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