About induction



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Induction implies derivation from several similar cases to the generalization that an additional case will give the same result as the previous. Since the Greek antiquity it is known that this type of generalization is not logically valid.

But we all use induction during every moment that we are awake, and all our experience from our world is based on induction. Every morning we suppose that the world would like it did yesterday - Induction! We drink a glass of water and believe it would relieve us from thirst - induction! We drop a heavy stone and believe it will fall - induction!

An additional example of induction is that we believe that every human one day, sooner or later, will die.


Induction during the Greek antique (around 350 BC)

Aristotle (384–322 bc) discussed a scientific method that, in some respects, is still actual within science.

Aristotle meant that scientific inquiry was a progression from observations to general principles and then back to observations. Explanatory principles was derived from the phenomena investigated (induction) and from these principles statements about the phenomena could be inferred (deduction).

The method is called The inductive - deductive method or The method of Analysis and Synthesis.



Sextus Empiricus (about 200 AC)

It is easy, I think, to reject the method of induction.

For since by way of it they want to make universals convincing on the basis of particulars, they will do this by surveying either all the particulars, or some of them. But

- if some, the induction will be infirm, it being possible that some of the particulars omitted in the induction should be contrary to the universal, and

- if all, they will labour at an impossible task, since the particulars are infinite and indeterminate.

Thus in either case it results, I think, that induction totters.


"Outlines of Scepticism", editor Annas, Cambridge (2007), Book 2, part XV



As Sextus Empiricus was an advocate of empiricism, it is likely that the term "induction totters" for him implied a rejection of that induction could give rise to "absolutely certain knowledge".


Probability reasoning during the Enlightenment (about 1750)

During the Enlightenment epistemology was discussed within philosophy with high precision.

Arguments based on induction was called probability arguments or moral arguments. The term probability clarified that it was not "demonstrative", i.e. could not be inferred by absolute assurance, but it was agreed that the assurance was extremely high in certain cases, and low in others.

Philosophers were aware of that probability arguments describe occurrences in our observed reality and provide the basis of all our experience:

  Probability is the very guide of life

Joseph Butler in the Introduction of the book Analogy of Religion (1736)


  ... moral reasoning, or that concerning matter of fact and existence

David Hume in Enquiry (1747, 1777) p.35



Isaac Newton (1642–1727)

And although the arguing from Experiments and Observations by Induction be no Demonstration of general Conclusions; yet it is the best way of arguing which the Nature of Things admits of, and may be looked upon as so much the stronger, by how much the Induction is more general.


Opticks, 4Ed (1730) p.380


News about induction during the last 200 years






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