The Book of Evidence

ISBN: 0195171713
ISBN 13: 9780195171716
By: Peter Achinstein

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About this book

What is required for something to be evidence for a hypothesis? In this fascinating, elegantly written work, distinguished philosopher of science Peter Achinstein explores this question, rejecting typical philosophical and statistical theories of evidence. He claims these theories are much too weak to give scientists what they want--a good reason to believe--and, in some cases, they furnish concepts that mistakenly make all evidential claims a priori. Achinstein introduces four concepts of evidence, defines three of them by reference to "potential" evidence, and characterizes the latter using a novel epistemic interpretation of probability. The resulting theory is then applied to philosophical and historical issues. Solutions are provided to the "grue," "ravens," "lottery," and "old-evidence" paradoxes, and to a series of questions. These include whether explanations or predictions furnish more evidential weight, whether individual hypotheses or entire theoretical systems can receive evidential support, what counts as a scientific discovery, and what sort of evidence is required for it. The historical questions include whether Jean Perrin had non-circular evidence for the existence of molecules, what type of evidence J. J. Thomson offered for the existence of the electron, and whether, as is usually supposed, he really discovered the electron. Achinstein proposes answers in terms of the concepts of evidence introduced. As the premier book in the fabulous new series Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Science, this volume is essential for philosophers of science and historians of science, as well as for statisticians, scientists with philosophical interests, and anyone curious about scientific reasoning.

Reader's Thoughts


the book begins with the "dean's challenge" -- can a philosopher shed any light on scientific enquiry (especially the relationship between evidence and hypotheses) that is useful to actual scientists. then, the rest is an attempt to make good on this challenge. there are at lest two fundamental problems: (1) this presumes that philosophers haven't had much to say that should interest scientists, which is false (see Scientific Reasoning by Howson and Urbach); (2) the author puts forward an "ordinary language" account of evidence that seems like it is not interesting to scientists or philosophers. this project seems like a step backwards in understanding evidence.

Chris Lawrence

Hard going. Very tediously written & a joy to finish. Shame because there's some good stuff in there which the author tries hard to hide.Improved a bit on second reading (after a few months) - I promoted it from 2 to 3 stars. But still harder going than it needs to be. I felt there was a leaner, clearer, more engaging book struggling to get out.

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