Abductive Knowledge and Holmesian Inference

Oxford Studies in Epistemology ( eds. Tamar Szabo Gendler and John Hawthorne) Oxford: Oxford University Press.


The usual, comparative, conception of Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) takes it to be
ampliative. In this paper I propose a conception of IBE (‘Holmesian inference’) that takes it to be a
species of eliminative induction and hence not ampliative. This avoids several problems for
comparative IBE (for example, how could it be reliable enough to generate knowledge?). My
account of Holmesian inference raises the suspicion that it could never be applied, on the grounds
that scientific hypotheses are inevitably underdetermined by the evidence (i.e. are inevitably
ampliative). I argue that this concern may be resisted by acknowledging, as Timothy Williamson
has shown, that all knowledge is evidence. The latter suggests an approach to resisting scepticism
different from those (e.g. the reliabilist approach) that embrace fallibilism.