(For Routledge Companion to Epistemology)


In this article I take a loose, functional approach to defining induction: Inductive forms of reasoning include those prima facie reasonable inference patterns that one finds in science and elsewhere that are not clearly deductive. Inductive inference is often taken to be reasoning from the observed to the unobserved. But that is incorrect, since the premises of inductive inferences may themselves be the results of prior inductions. A broader conception of inductive inference regards any ampliative inference as inductive, where an ampliative inference is one where the conclusion ‘goes beyond’ the premises. ‘Goes beyond’ may mean (i) ‘not deducible from’ or (ii) ‘not entailed by’. Both of these are problematic. Regarding (i), some forms of reasoning might have a claim to be called ‘inductive’ because of their role in science, yet turn out to be deductive after all—for example eliminative induction (see below) or Aristotle’s ‘perfect induction’ which is an inference to a generalization from knowledge of every one of its instances. Interpretation (ii) requires that the conclusions of scientific reasoning are always contingent propositions, since necessary propositions are entailed by any premises. But there are good reasons from metaphysics for thinking that many general propositions of scientific interest and known by inductive inference (e.g. “all water is H2O”) are necessarily true. Finally, both (i) and (ii) fail to take account of the fact that there are many ampliative forms of inference one would not want to call inductive, such as counter-induction (exemplified by the ‘gambler’s fallacy’ that the longer a roulette wheel has come up red the more likely it is to come up black on the next roll). Brian Skyrms (1999) provides a useful survey of the issues involved in defining what is meant by ‘inductive argument’. Inductive knowledge will be the outcome of a successful inductive inference. But much discussion of induction concerns the theory of confirmation, which seeks to answer the question, “when and to what degree does evidence support an hypothesis?” Usually, this is understood in an incremental sense and in a way that relates to the rational credibility of a hypothesis: “when and by how much does e add to the credibility of h?”, although ‘confirms’ is sometimes used in an absolute sense to indicate total support that exceeds some suitably high threshold..



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Alexander James Bird
Cambridge University

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What is a Law of Nature?D. M. Armstrong - 1983 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Sydney Shoemaker.
Inference to the Best Explanation.Peter Lipton - 1991 - London and New York: Routledge.
The Logic of Scientific Discovery.Karl Popper - 1959 - Studia Logica 9:262-265.

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