Unity As An Epistemic Virtue

Kit Patrick*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
222 Downloads (Pure)


It's widely supposed that unification is an epistemic virtue: the degree to which a theory is unified contributes to its overall confirmation. However, this supposition has consequences which haven't been noted, and which undermine the leading accounts of unification. For, given Hempel's equivalence condition, any epistemic virtue must be such that logically equivalent theories must equally well unify any body of evidence, and logically equivalent bodies of evidence must be equally well unified by any theory. Yet the leading accounts of unification in Bayesian terms, or those in terms of argument patterns, cannot satisfy these constraints conditions. The reason for this runs deep: these accounts of unification make unity depend on factors that vary between equivalent theories: the probabilistic relations of their components, or their relations to argument patterns. The solution is to abandon such accounts and instead adopt an account of unity based on worldly relations such as causation, rather than inferential relations. Such an account effortlessly satisfies the equivalence conditions, and so may describe the epistemic virtue of unity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)983-1002
Number of pages20
Issue number5
Early online date7 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018

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