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Induction Notes

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Becky Tun

-1-

28/11/07

What are the problems of induction? Are they soluble?
The problem of induction is to determine the epistemic role and status of inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is technically not a logical procedure - not like deductive reasoning, where the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. In inductive reasoning the conclusion is an extrapolation from a finite set of examples. It is what we use in most of our day to day reasoning and in science to reach conclusions about the unobserved world and the future: for example in our belief that the sun will rise tomorrow. This belief is based on the fact that the sun has always risen in the past. On further analysis, we believe it because we believe certain laws of physics will continue to be fulfilled, but again, this is just because they have always been observed to hold in the past. What makes induction problematic is the fact that there seems to be no way of proving that it can lead to knowledge, and consequently no way of justifying our use of it. Hume set the debate as we know it into motion. His conclusion was that inductive reasoning is epistemically unjustifiable because all reasoning is either demonstrative (a priori) or inductive, and neither of these types of reasoning can be used to defend induction. No a priori reasoning can be used to justify induction because it is not logically contradictory to suppose that the laws of nature might change. Neither can induction be justified inductively (i.e. by looking at empirical evidence and drawing the conclusion that the causal relationships we seem to observe must always hold) because this reasoning uses the very principle that is in question. It follows that induction cannot be justified by any kind of rational process. Instead, Hume says, induction is driven by habit. When an event of one kind frequently follows upon an event of another kind in experience, a habit is formed which leads the mind to expect them always to be conjoined. So Hume accepts the inevitability of induction as a psychological state for animals and human beings - we are all habit-forming creatures
- but we can never 'know' our inductive conclusions. Since Hume concluded that induction cannot be rationally justified, the challenge he effectively set up was to find a rational justification. This is what many philosophers since Hume have been trying to do. Some have gone down the a priori route and others have put forward sophisticated forms of inductive justification, while others have rejected the possibility of an epistemic justification altogether and instead suggest pragmatic reasons for trusting our inductive reasoning. Recently, however, Nelson Goodman has claimed that the old riddle of induction has been replaced by a new one. While he says the old problem has not been solved as such, he thinks the new problem is more pressing displaces the old riddle. He argues that since the search for a justification of induction has been fruitless, perhaps this is because the idea of a justification of induction is an incoherent one anyway; if it is supposed to consist in explaining how we know that certain predictions will turn out to be correct, 'the sufficient answer is that we don't know any such thing'. And if we are looking for a way of telling which of our predictions are going to come out correct or not, then 'we are asking for prevision rather than philosophical explanation'. Trying to attain unattainable knowledge or account for knowledge that we do not in fact have will obviously be unsuccessful. On this note, Goodman suggests that it is unfair to think of Hume's response to the problem of induction as something he didn't take to be a genuine answer. Hume attempts to explain why we make inductive

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