David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Philosophy of Science 77 (5):754-764 (2010)
With respect to inductive reasoning, there are at least two broad projects that have been of interest to philosophers. The first project is that of accurately describing paradigmatic instances of inductive reasoning in the sciences and in everyday life. Thus, we might ask, of some particular historical episode, how exactly Newton, or Darwin, or Einstein arrived at some conclusion on the basis of the evidence that was before him. The second project is one of justification. The task here is that of showing why paradigmatic inductive reasoning is good reasoning, or why skeptical challenges which purport to undermine the legitimacy of such reasoning fail to do so. As I understand it, this second, justificatory project prominently includes, but is not limited to, the task of either solving or dissolving Hume’s skeptical critique of induction. Neither of these projects is trivial. Indeed, many think that we are currently far from successfully completing either one. But in any case, it would seem that the descriptive project has a certain priority to the justification project. After all, how could one justify our inductive practices, or defend them against skeptical challenge, in the absence of some reasonably detailed and accurate description of those practices? Given this apparent priority, it is a striking fact that the justification project has often been pursued in the absence of any significant attention to the project of accurate description. In particular, a great deal of the traditional discussion of Hume’s problem of induction has proceeded against the background of hopelessly crude models of our actual inductive practice—a fact sometimes acknowledged by participants in such discussions themselves. Plausibly, the thought which underlies this procedure is the following: whatever force Hume’s critique ultimately possesses, that force is not tied to the specific content of the general rules or principles that we follow in reasoning inductively. Rather, the force of Hume’s critique depends on our following any general rules or principles at all..
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