Science & Education

, Volume 24, Issue 9–10, pp 1059–1077 | Cite as

Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) Versus Explaining for the Best Inference (EBI)

  • Daniel A. Wilkenfeld
  • Tania Lombrozo


In pedagogical contexts and in everyday life, we often come to believe something because it would best explain the data. What is it about the explanatory endeavor that makes it essential to everyday learning and to scientific progress? There are at least two plausible answers. On one view, there is something special about having true explanations. This view is highly intuitive: it’s clear why true explanations might improve one’s epistemic position. However, there is another possibility—it could be that the process of seeking, generating, or evaluating explanations itself puts one in a better epistemic position, even when the outcome of the process is not a true explanation. In other words, it could be that accurate explanations are beneficial, or it could be that high-quality explaining is beneficial, where there is something about the activity of looking for an explanation that improves our epistemic standing. The main goal of this paper is to tease apart these two possibilities, both theoretically and empirically, which we align with “Inference to the Best Explanation” (IBE) and “Explaining for the Best Inference” (EBI), respectively. We also provide some initial support for EBI and identify promising directions for future research.


Good Explanation True Belief Internal Component Cognitive Benefit Causal Account 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank the University of California, Berkeley, the John Templeton Foundation Varieties of Understanding project, the McDonnell Scholar Award, and NSF Grant DRL-1056712 (to Tania Lombrozo) for support during the writing of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, 3210 Tolman HallUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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