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Bayesian Philosophy of Science$
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Jan Sprenger and Stephan Hartmann

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780199672110

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199672110.001.0001

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The Problem of Old Evidence

The Problem of Old Evidence

(p.131) Variation 5: The Problem of Old Evidence
Bayesian Philosophy of Science

Jan Sprenger

Stephan Hartmann

Oxford University Press

In science, phenomena are often unexplained by the available scientific theories. At some point, it may be discovered that a novel theory accounts for this phenomenon—and this seems to confirm the theory because a persistent anomaly is resolved. However, Bayesian confirmation theory—primarily a theory for updating beliefs in the light of learning new information—struggles to describe confirmation by such cases of “old evidence”. We discuss the two main varieties of the Problem of Old Evidence (POE)—the static and the dynamic POE—, criticize existing solutions and develop two novel Bayesian models. They show how the discovery of explanatory and deductive relationships, or the absence of alternative explanations for the phenomenon in question, can confirm a theory. Finally, we assess the overall prospects of Bayesian Confirmation Theory in the light of the POE.

Keywords:   Bayesian Confirmation Theory, Problem of Old Evidence (POE), confirmation of scientific theories, confirmation by learning deductive relationships, confirmation by learning explanatory relationships

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