In D. Pritchard (ed.), Routledge Companion to Epistemology. Routledge (2009)
The first obstacle that confronts the student of induction is that of defining the subject matter. One initial point is to note that much of the relevant subject matter goes under the description ‘the theory of confirmation’. The distinction is primarily that the study of induction concerns inference, i.e. cases where one takes the conclusion to be established by the evidence, whereas confirmation concerns the weight of evidence, which one may take to be something like the credibility of a hypothesis in the light of the evidence. Discussions of confirmation often concern incremental confirmation, i.e. cases where the evidence is taken to increase the credibility of some hypothesis, even if not sufficiently to warrant inferring the truth of that hypothesis. However, some uses of ‘confirmation’ clearly refer to absolute confirmation, cases where the credibility of the hypothesis in the light of the evidence exceeds some (high) threshold. One may ask whether inductive inference corresponds to the case of absolute confirmation for some suitable threshold. I shall discuss inference and confirmation together, though it should be noted that some approaches eschew inference altogether. For example, the Bayesian takes scientific reasoning to be a matter of adjusting credences in propositions in the light of evidence, and says nothing about unqualified belief in a proposition. However, if we are interested in inductive knowledge then we must consider inference, since only then do we have a detached proposition that is the possible content of a mental state of knowing. A more pressing question concerns which inferences (or allegedly confirmatory relations) should be classed as inductive. A natural and straightforward approach is to define induction as encompassing any form of reasoning that extrapolates from one population to another, usually from a sample of a population to the whole population. For example, one might note that all observations of the position of some planet fall on an ellipse that has the Sun at one of its foci; from this one concludes that all the positions that planet takes fall on this ellipse (i.e..
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