Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-pf4mj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-27T23:56:00.357Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Bayesianism and Explanatory Unification: A Compatibilist Account

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


Proponents of IBE claim that the ability of a hypothesis to explain a range of phenomena in a unifying way contributes to the hypothesis’s credibility in light of these phenomena. I propose a Bayesian justification of this claim that reveals a hitherto unnoticed role for explanatory unification in evaluating the plausibility of a hypothesis: considerations of explanatory unification enter into the determination of a hypothesis’s prior by affecting its ‘explanatory coherence’, that is, the extent to which the hypothesis offers mutually cohesive explanations of various phenomena.

Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


I would like to thank Heather Demarest, Michael Hicks, and two anonymous reviewers for very helpful comments. Thanks are also due to the John Templeton Foundation’s Varieties of Understanding project for funding this research.


Fitelson, B. 2003. “A Probabilistic Theory of Coherence.” Analysis 63:194–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Friedman, M. 1974. “Explanation and Scientific Understanding.” Journal of Philosophy 71:519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Glass, D. 2003. “Problems with Priors in Probabilistic Measures of Coherence.” Erkenntnis 63:375–85.Google Scholar
Henderson, L. 2014. “Bayesianism and Inference to the Best Explanation.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 65:687715.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Janssen, M. 2002. “COI Stories: Explanation and Evidence in the History of Science.” Perspectives on Science 10 (4): 457522..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kitcher, P. 1981. “Explanatory Unification.” Philosophy of Science 48 (4): 507–31..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lange, M. 2004. “Bayesianism and Unification: A Reply to Wayne Myrvold.” Philosophy of Science 71 (2): 205–15..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lipton, P. 2004. Inference to the Best Explanation. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
McGrew, T. 2003. “Confirmation, Heuristics and Explanatory Reasoning.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 54:553–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Myrvold, W. 2003. “A Bayesian Account of the Virtue of Unification.” Philosophy of Science 70:399423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Myrvold, W. 2017. “On the Evidential Import of Unification.” Philosophy of Science 84:92114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Okasha, S. 2000. “Van Fraassen’s Critique of Inference to the Best Explanation.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 31:691710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Salmon, W. 2001. “Reflections of a Bashful Bayesian: A Reply to Peter Lipton.” In Explanation: Theoretical Approaches and Applications, ed. Hon, G. and Rakover, S., 119–34. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
Schupbach, J. 2005. “On a Bayesian Analysis of the Virtue of Unification.” Philosophy of Science 72:594607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shogenji, T. 1999. “Is Coherence Truth-Conducive?Analysis 59 (264): 338–45..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weisberg, J. 2009. “Locating IBE in the Bayesian Framework.” Synthese 167:125–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Whewell, W. 1847. The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Founded upon Their History. 2nd ed. London: John W. Parker.Google Scholar