The Problem of Induction

“In our daily lives and in the sciences, we infer certain qualities and effects based on our past experience of similar objects and causes. Hume argued that inductive inferences of this kind cannot be justified by reason. The underlying assumption about the uniformity of nature, that the future will resemble the past and that like effects have like causes, cannot be demonstrated without begging the question. This famously sceptical view about knowledge has often been wrongly interpreted as anti-rational and perhaps hypocritical…Hume’s argument is not a clarion call to total scepticism but instead, calls for a better appreciation of the limits of human understanding and for greater epistemic humility.

—Razavi, Seyed P. “H.5 The Problem of Induction.” Autodidactphilosophy.com. June 26, 2017.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a fuller discussion of The Problem of Induction, which provides some interesting color to the problem:

“There is no comprehensive theory of sound induction, no set of agreed upon rules that license good or sound inductive inference, nor is there a serious prospect of such a theory. Further, induction differs from deductive proof or demonstration (in first-order logic, at least) not only in induction’s failure to preserve truth (true premises may lead inductively to false conclusions) but also in failing of monotonicity: adding true premises to a sound induction may make it unsound.”

It’s an interesting problem in so far as it encourages us to question common beliefs in the modern worldview, such as in the scientific method, materialism, etc. Reason, science and other tools we routinely rely upon are fundamentally flawed. While this does not mean we should abandon them, it does mean we should take better care in understanding their limitations.

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