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


in Evidence, Inference and Enquiry

Published by British Academy

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780197264843
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754050 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

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

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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

Chapter.  11838 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Research and Statistics

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