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Evidence, Inference and Enquiry$
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Philip Dawid, William Twining, and Mimi Vasilaki

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780197264843

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197264843.001.0001

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What the Ravens Really Teach Us: the Intrinsic Contextuality of Evidence

What the Ravens Really Teach Us: the Intrinsic Contextuality of Evidence

(p.344) (p.345) 13 What the Ravens Really Teach Us: the Intrinsic Contextuality of Evidence
Evidence, Inference and Enquiry



British Academy

This chapter advances a contextual view of evidence, through a reconsideration of Hempel's paradox of confirmation (the ‘ravens paradox’). The initial view regarding Hempel's paradox is that a non-black non-raven does confirm ‘All ravens are black’, but only in certain contexts. The chapter begins by reformulating the paradox as a puzzle about how the same entity can have variable evidential values for a given proposition. It then offers a three-stage solution to the reformulated paradox. (1) The situation makes better sense when we reach a deeper propositional understanding of evidence, recognising that each entity can be represented in multiple observational propositions. (2) Some anti-contextualist intuitions can be defused by distinguishing two different senses of the word ‘evidence’, one applying to objects or events and the other applying to propositions; only the latter is relevant to inference. (3) A fuller understanding comes from analysing the constitution and use of evidence in terms of epistemic action. These reflections on the ravens paradox suggest a general philosophical framework more suitable for understanding the function of evidence in scientific and everyday practices.

Keywords:   evidence, Hempel's paradox, ravens paradox, philosophical framework, contextuality

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