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How the Laws of Physics Lie$
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Nancy Cartwright

Print publication date: 1983

Print ISBN-13: 9780198247043

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198247044.001.0001

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When Explanation Leads to Inference

When Explanation Leads to Inference

(p.87) Essay 5 When Explanation Leads to Inference
How the Laws of Physics Lie

Nancy Cartwright (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

When is it justified to infer from the fact that a theory provides a good explanation of phenomena to the truth of the theory used in explanation (i.e. inference to the best explanation)? Bas van Fraassen and Pierre Duhem's instrumentalism, which demands only that good theories should ‘save the phenomena’, precludes such inferences altogether. However, in cases of inference to the most probable cause, the instrumentalist position excludes too much. In fact, although explanation via well‐tested causal claims does not justify belief in theoretical laws, it does justify belief in the theoretical entities that figure in those claims (i.e. in ‘entity realism’).

Keywords:   Pierre Duhem, entity realism, inference to the best explanation, instrumentalism, save the phenomena

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