Inductive inference is a type of method that many scientists use to arrive at general claims from premises and observed samples. Historically however, philosophers such as David Hume have argued that inductive reasoning is unjustified and problematic in many ways. Pritchard explores this idea known as “the problem of induction” in Chapter 10.
An example of an observation is: Every observed emu has been flightless. Therefore the inductive inference would be: All Emus are flightless. Before Humes created his argument, this inference would seem justifiable so long as the observation was made in a range of cases that represented it. Humes however brings to question, “… how we could be sure that the regularities that are observed within a representative sample should increase the likelihood that the unrestricted generalization is true” (Pritchard 102). This proves that in order to defend that an inductive inference is justifiable, one must use yet another inductive claim. The epistemic support for inductive inferences is circular. From this, we conclude that there can be no non-circular justification for inductive inferences. This dilemma is known as the problem of induction and leaves us with the issue of whether we can justify inductive reasoning considering the fact Humes has presented us with the problem of induction. Do we conclude that induction needs no justification? Do we side with epistemic internalists who believe one must always have supporting grounds?
Since scientists are prone to use inductive reasoning, is the problem of Induction merely a something we can live with? Popper suggests that, “we don’t in fact make use of inductive inferences all that often” (103). Popper presents us with falsification, an alternative method for proceeding deductively through the problem of induction. Simply put, we must create generalizations then seek to refute them by finding evidence that counters the generalization. Is falsification a useful way to avoid the problem of induction? Philosophers argue that although falsification may temporarily solve the problem of induction, it suggest that in fact we don’t know much about scientific knowledge and we don’t know that many generalizations are indeed false.
Another solution to the problem of induction is Pragmatism. If we assume there is no justification for induction and we don’t employ induction and believe it is rational, we won’t have many true beliefs in this world. Pritchard states, “If we do use induction, at least we have the chance to form lots of true beliefs about the world through our inductive inferences” (107). This is the pragmatic response to the problem of induction. We face a choice between either using induction to gain true beliefs, or believing it is not justifiable and losing all potential true beliefs about the world.
Falsification and Pragmatism leave us with a choice to make in take for defining and justifying induction. Do we side with Humes, Popper, or one of the numerous other philosophers who believe they have arrived at solutions for the problem of induction? Vickers argues, “In recent times inductive methods have fissioned and multiplied, to an extent that attempting to define induction would be more difficult than rewarding… it is safe to say that in the absence of further assumptions this problem is and should be insoluble.” (Vickers). In other words, attempting to justify induction further complicates the problem because it raises even more questions. This leads us to the conclusion that the problem of induction is merely something we must live with in order for us to continue our scientific studies and the search for true beliefs in our world.
Outside source: Vickers, John, “The Problem of Induction”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2014/entries/induction-problem/>.