Philosophy Evidence
by
Trent Dougherty
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0132

Introduction

This entry will focus on contemporary discussions concerning what items of evidence are and when items constitute evidence for a theory. The first issue we might call the ontology of evidence. Does evidence consist in objects, events, experiences, or propositions? The dominant tradition in philosophy is that our ultimate evidence is grounded in sense experience. However, this theory has been subject to persistent criticisms. Once this question is settled, however, the question remains as to when such a thing counts as evidence for a theory. The most widely discussed theory here is that an event E counts as evidence for a theory H when E raises the probability of H. As commonsense as this sounds, there are some serious difficulties trying to give a probabilistic model for when one thing counts as evidence for another.

General Overviews

These volumes represent both historical surveys and particular points of view, sometimes more overtly expressed than others. Achinstein 2001 is an extended and very opinionated study of evidence, especially as it concerns probability. Hacking 2006 gives a conceptual history of the notion of evidence and how it eventually became intertwined with the mathematical theory of probability. Franklin 2001 is a very extensive historical survey of the notion of evidence, especially as it relates to a probabilistic account.

  • Achinstein, Peter. The Book of Evidence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    An extended and very opinionated study of evidence, especially as it concerns probability. The author is not sympathetic to a wholly probabilistic account, seeing explanation as a necessary concomitant.

  • Franklin, James. The Science of Conjecture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

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    Very extensive historical survey of the notion of evidence, especially as it relates to a probabilistic account. At times very critical of Hacking 2006, though it isn’t always obvious that the criticisms are well-placed. The author shows an absolutely amazing breadth of knowledge and sensitivity to historical detail.

  • Hacking, Ian. The Emergence of Probability. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    Though its principle aim is the emergence of a specifically probabilistic concept, there is much here for the reader interested in the more general notion of evidence. In particular, the first five chapters will interest even those who have little sympathy for probabilistic accounts of evidence. The first edition was published in 1975. The only updated addition is an introduction “contextualizing” the contents in light of new research.

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