Inference to the Best Explanation

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Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) is scientific device of logical reasoning residing on the idea that entities, conditions, or processes that have the capability or so called causal powers to produce the evidence in question constitute better explanations of that evidence than those that are not.[1] The method of IBE does not attempt to answer the question Why this? but the question Why this rather than that?[2]

Especially in historical sciences, the process of determining the best explanation necessarily involves generating a list of possible hypotheses. Then, to infer the best explanation necessarily implies the need to examine and compare competing explanations. None of evidences ultimately prove that the hypothesis is absolutely correct but they provide support for it and place it in contention as a possible best explanation.[1]

A modern classic in the philosophy of science devoted to Inference to the Best Explanation is a homonymous book by Peter Lipton which was published in 1991.[2] He i.a. noted that where more than one causial explanation is available, scientists use a comparative method of evaluation and a process of elimination to evaluate competing possible causal hypotheses.[1] Lipton characterizes IBE as inference to the loveliest explanation, not inference to the likeliest explanation.[2]


  • The destruction of a building can be explained both by earthquake and a bomb. In the absence of other evidence, the presence of the shrapnel at the scene would lead forensic scientists to conclusion that the bomb is the best explanation for given pattern of destruction.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Meyer, Stephen C. (2008). Signature in the Cell. New York: HarperOne, 154–159, 327. ISBN 978-0-06-147279-2. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 L. Farmakis, S. Hartmann. PETER LIPTON:Inference to the Best Explanation, 2nd edition (Review). Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, University of Notre Dame. Retrieved on 6 Juni 2015.