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Kant Response To Humes Problem Of Induction Essay

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The Problem Of Induction In Philosophy (Hume) - With A Free Essay Review




Prompt: What is the most plausible answer to the problem of induction? Does the answer actually solve the problem of induction? (Be sure to explain the problem of induction in your essay)

The problem of induction is one of the greatest challenges posed by epistemology. Since being raised by David Hume in the 18th century, several philosophers have attempted to answer this dilemma. In this paper I will argue that the most plausible answer to the problem of induction is that it remains our best means of explaining the truth. In that regard, I will use Hume’s, Bonjour’s and Reichenbach’s inquiries, as well as my own, to provide support for my claims. It is my aim to show why the pragmatic vindication only gives us everything to gain and nothing to lose. However in order to do so, a brief explanation of what the problem of induction is will be required.

Inductive reasoning is the form of reasoning that takes us from particular observations of a phenomenon to general conclusions about the phenomenon. For instance, say I was to suggest that all sugar is water-soluble. However, in order to make this claim I must first consistently observe this phenomenon and be ready to make the claim that this phenomenon will continue to occur under all conditions at all times. By looking at the statistical results of the experiment, we can apply our findings to actual scientific law. In other words, it bridges the gap between the observed and the unobserved. This is where philosophers need to determine whether or not scientific experiments actually lead to scientific conclusions generally. Additionally, we must also propose the question of whether or not we’re ever justified in saying the hypothesis has been confirmed based on some finite set of empirical data.

The potential difficulty with this is that the information collected at the conclusion about all A’s far exceeds the information in the premises, which is only a subset of A’s. That is to say that the conclusion says a lot more than the premises. So the obvious question then is how are we to make the connection between correlational data and it’s ability to conclude causal results. While common sense would suggest that with every additional piece of evidence gathered the findings are even more likely to be true, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, as Hume will attest to, no matter how many experiments we perform, it will still only be a small sub-set of empirical data measured. This challenge to the validity of inductive reasoning comes from the assumption we make that our limited exposure to this phenomenon is enough to allow us to make conclusions about it as a whole. While one would think that by changing the variables to prove that the phenomenon is not just a feature of the environment or an anomaly, this is simply not the case. In light of this, Hume argues that all our inductive inferences, both common-sensical and in the laboratory is unjustified. Going back to our all sugar being water-soluble example, how is it that we are to argue that all water and sugar share the same properties as the water and sugar we have observed? To explain this dilemma, Hume introduces “Hume’s Fork” whereby we will still be stuck because neither gives us a reason to believe the standard inductive conclusion is true. However, in order to make this assertion, an explanation as to why this is the case is in order.

In Hume’s fork we are attempting to establish the cogency of induction, whereby we have to do so using one of two general styles of reasoning. While one will argue based on logically valid findings, the other will be based on the data drawn from experimental procedures. The first style of reasoning is a priori reasoning, meaning knowledge acquired independent or prior to experience. According to Hume, this style of reasoning is logically valid. Logically valid inferences state that if the premises are true then the conclusions must be true. Or better yet, if you accept the premises, you must accept the conclusions. There is no way for the premises to be true and the conclusions to be false. However, this is not really the case because using a priori reasoning does not prove inductive inferences is logically valid. It is not the case that the premises can be true and the conclusions false, while maintaining the premises truth validity. This is one style of reasoning used in Hume’s fork with the other being experimental reasoning. The problem with experimental reasoning is that it is not logically valid. It is not logically valid because we have no reason to believe that the conclusions we attempt to make based on the empirical data bring us any closer to bridging the gap between the observed and the unobserved.

Another reason it fails is because experimental reasoning is itself an inductive argument. We cannot establish the cogency of induction by appealing to the very sort of reasoning that is in question. Hence, we are stuck because if neither a priori reasoning nor experimental reasoning can establish the cogency of inductive inferences, then inductive premises give us no reason to think that inductive conclusions are true. Hume supports this claim as he too argues that not only do inductive arguments fail to definitively establish their conclusions, they do not do so much as increase the likelihood that their conclusions are true by any degree whatsoever. This leads us to a crossroads because if inductive reasoning cannot definitively establish their conclusions, how are we to infer knowledge?

The most plausible answer is the pragmatic vindication because although we can’t justify the general conclusions we try to establish from this style of reasoning, it can be vindicated because it allows us to draw inferences based on our ability to rationalize. So although we have no epistemic reason to accept inductive arguments, we do have a pragmatic reason to do so. However, despite the fact that we are unable to confirm that the inductive method tracks the truth, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by using inductive reasoning. This view is held because if the truth can be tracked, then induction does as good of a job of doing so more than any other method. In order to prove the pragmatic vindication’s validity, I introduce Hans Reichenbach’s views on the subject. In his form of the inductive method, there are two steps. The first is that we tentatively accept a general hypothesis about the proportion of A’s that are B’s on the basis of past observations. The second is that we revise the hypothesis if and when the observed proportion of A’s that are B’s changes. So rather than arguing that our epistemic reasons find conclusive findings, we simply assert that thus far, our experiments tend to indicate specific conclusions based on the statistical results of our experiments. This then begs the question of why this still does not allow us to make conclusions about our findings? Reichenbach appeals to the notion of a mathematical limit to answer this question. He argues that if the observed frequency of A’s that are B’s converges on a limit, then that limit is the true proportion of A’s that are B’s. Therefore, inductive inquiry is, by definition, reasonable and leads us towards finding the closest thing we can to a truth. In fact, the ordinary language justification suggests that this is what we mean to say when we consider a person to be a rational being. So while we may recognize that you may not be not be justified in the strong sense for using induction, you are reasonable for using it and would be unreasonable if you failed to do so. However, in a last ditch effort to prove that there may be a better justification Bonjour introduces the abduction justification. It is an a priori style of inference whereby we must follow three steps to follow it accordingly. First, we must identify a fact that requires explanation. Next, we consider all possible explanations of the fact and finally, identify the best explanation of the fact as truth. This justification appeals to the principle of parsimony, which states that the most likely explanation is the simplest one. I argue that the validity of the principle of parsimony is not a wise principle to abide by because it makes far too many assumptions to infer certain knowledge.

As we have seen, the problem of induction remains a challenge to many philosophers to this day. While Hume may have been the first the point out the problem of induction, the analysis he performs using Hume’s fork only shows us why there is this problem. In fact, as this paper has shown, Hume’s fork did not solve the problem of induction as initially intended. That being said, the most plausible answer appears to be the pragmatic vindication whereby we accept the use of inductive reasoning because if there is a truth that can be tracked, then the inductive method explains the truth as good as any other method.

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ESSAY REVIEW

Your exposition appears a bit muddled to me, and that appearance is exacerbated by a lack of precision with respect to language and syntax. So you really need to go through the whole essay sentence by sentence with a view to clarifying your meaning. Let's look at a few sentences from your discussion of Hume as examples.

1. "While one would think that by changing the variables to prove that the phenomenon is not just a feature of the environment or an anomaly, this is simply not the case." This is unclear, both because "this" has no referent (everything from "by" to the comma modifies an absent clause; presumably you forgot to add something like "we could solve the problem") and because you need to explain what's entailed in "changing the variables" by, for example, including an example.

2. "In light of this, Hume argues that all our inductive inferences, both common-sensical and in the laboratory is unjustified." This sentence is unclear because "this" is ambiguous (this what?). Also you have a subject-verb agreement error.

3. "In Hume’s fork we are attempting to establish the cogency of induction, whereby we have to do so using one of two general styles of reasoning." "Whereby" is the wrong word ("which" is the right one, assuming you delete "so") and you use it awkwardly elsewhere too. "Styles" also seems like the wrong word to me. "In" is the wrong word too, by the way. Generally, your essay is unclear about whether the fork is Hume's attempt to demonstrate the nature of the problem or Hume's attempt to solve the problem. In fact, here, you seem to be implying that you are using the fork to see if it can solve the problem. That's all rather bizarre, I think. Hume tried to show that inductive reasoning is not strictly reliable. Something to that effect ought to be clearly stated in your essay. You could also likely improve the clarity of your presentation here by actually quoting Hume.

4. "Logically valid inferences state that if the premises are true then the conclusions must be true. Or better yet, if you accept the premises, you must accept the conclusions.

There is no way for the premises to be true and the conclusions to be false." You could probably explain what a logically valid inference is in one sentence (remembering that inferences don't "state" things).

5. "However, this is not really the case because using a priori reasoning does not prove inductive inferences is logically valid." Again, this sentence is unclear and the word "this" is ambiguous. So far, you've merely defined "logically valid inferences." What you need to do, instead, is prove that you cannot use a priori reasoning to prove the validity of inductive reasoning. Note the subject-verb agreement error again.

6. "It is not the case that the premises can be true and the conclusions false, while maintaining the premises truth validity." I'm afraid I have very little idea what you are trying to say here.

7. "Another reason it fails is because experimental reasoning is itself an inductive argument. We cannot establish the cogency of induction by appealing to the very sort of reasoning that is in question." Here "it" is ambiguous. “Because” is the wrong word (“the reason is ...that” is the correct formulation). Also you haven't given an example of an attempt to prove the validity of induction by way of induction. Such an attempt, by the way, would be an example of the fallacy called "begging the question" (You use the phrase "to beg the question" to mean something else (i.e., "to raise the question") elsewhere. What you need here in any case is to present the possible argument that you are rejecting; e.g., (but use your own words) "It might be argued that our experience demonstrates the validity of inductive reasoning. After all, we frequently make successful predictions based on generalizations of specific observations. However, such an argument begs the question. It uses inductive reasoning to prove the validity of inductive reasoning." A more general problem with your account of the problem of establishing the validity of induction is that you seem to be presenting what are basically Hume's arguments as your own, and then saying that Hume agrees with you.

8. "However, despite the fact that we are unable to confirm that the inductive method tracks the truth, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by using inductive reasoning. This view is held because if the truth can be tracked, then induction does as good of a job of doing so more than any other method." I agree with the basic point, but find your way of explaining it (i.e., everything that follows "because" above) unconvincing in itself. I think we could make the matter clearer by thinking differently about the nature of the problem, which issue I’m going to move on to now, so you’re on your own with the rest of your sentences.

There are a few different ways to think of the problem as a problem: It's potentially a problem for the disciplines of philosophy and science if these disciplines aim to arrive at the truth of things; It's potentially a problem for human beings too, if they rely a lot on possibly false inductive surmises about the world around them. A third way to look at the problem would be to think about the fact that, historically, we have been successful in many ways in negotiating the world around us. This is an observation, which according to the problem itself we could not legitimately use to arrive at certain conclusions about the problem (again, that would be begging the question). But it seems to require explanation all the same. Let’s consider two possible explanations for our success.

It could be explained by the fact that we have merely been extraordinarily lucky up until now. Or it could be explained by the fact that a lot of the generalizations that matter to us tend to be close enough to the truth as makes no difference. I think it's better to believe the second of these two options. Because we can't tell for certain which is true, we ought to assume that we've not been lucky; it's a better bet. This is what it means to say "we have everything to gain and nothing to lose” by believing in the usefulness if not absolute validity of induction. If we act as though our inductions are reasonable, and if we are proven right to have acted that way by making predictions that turn out correct, then we have gained the advantage afforded by such predictions. We get to kill the animal that turns up, as we predicted, at the watering hole. We get to survive. If we act as though our inductions are not reasonable, we have no prediction of where the animal will be. Being right in this case affords us no advantage. We don't know where to hunt. The result is paralysis in the face of impossible decisions and likely starvation. So assuming we don’t want to die, we should go about our business as though we believed in induction and move on to another topic in the history of philosophy. (Of course, there are some minor technical issues [yes, for some this will be the *real* problem] when it comes to deciding how many observations we need to make before settling on a belief. We just need a rule of thumb for that. As soon as start seeing predictions come true, for instance, we’ve probably got enough. As soon as we see a prediction fail, we need to think about things a bit more and make a few more observations.).

This is the pragmatic approach to the problem. Assuming that inductive reasoning is useful is just a good bet to make. We could perhaps also use Occam's razor, or what you call the principle of parsimony, if we think the "we've been lucky" hypothesis depends on a much more complex physical universe than does the claim that many inductions tend to be close to the truth (as makes no difference to us). We might think that if we think it would be more difficult to build a world in which induction appears to work and yet bears no relation to the truth, a world in which we predict the animal goes to the watering hole, and the animal does indeed go the watering hole, but our prediction was still just a lucky guess.

A couple of other observations. First, there was one other example from your essay I meant to comment on: "I argue that the validity of the principle of parsimony is not a wise principle to abide by because it makes far too many assumptions to infer certain knowledge." Two points about this: 1) you don't actually argue in this essay that invoking this principle is unwise. For instance, you don't identify the assumptions; 2) I don't believe (but I have not read the author to whom you refer) that anyone would use that principle to prove that you can reach "certainty" via "induction." (As I suggest above, I think you could possibly use the principle to argue that we ought to have greater faith in the power of induction than in the power of good fortune).

Now back to Hume. You say that Hume is right without addressing Kant. Perhaps you haven't got to Kant yet, or perhaps he is just generally deprecated around your parts, but usually you don't get to say that Hume is completely right without talking a little Kant, so to speak.

Take the classical example of causality. We tend to believe strongly in the idea that every effect has a cause. We tend to think that we *know,* in the strong sense, that every effect has a cause. Hume tried to show that our knowledge of causality resulted from observation of actual effects being preceded by actual causes.

Kant comes along and says the principle of causality is required knowledge for our observation of the world. If we didn't already know that every effect had a cause we would have no way of attributing causes to effects in order to build up the empirical observations that would allow us to believe the principle by induction. Does that mean that Kant proves that we have a priori knowledge about the world? No. He claims only that we have a priori knowledge about the-world-as-observed. The phenomena of the world we observe are shaped by the tools with which we observe. If you add Darwin to the mix, and suspect that our survival has depended on coming up with the right kinds of a priori faculties to ensure a pretty good correspondence between the shape of the world as we observe it and the shape of the world as it is, then you might have another plausible answer to the problem (again, depending on how you state the problem in the first place).

Finally, you don't address explicitly the scientific method as a way of addressing the problem. The scientific method valorizes predictive power. It’s a bit like pragmatism. It essentially avoids the question of the "truth" of its claims, which it makes on the basis of specific observations or (go figure) anticipated observations or even hypothetical observations (as in, if I were in an box isolated from gravitational forces and being accelerated upwards without my knowledge, I would observe myself being attracted, as though by gravity, to the bottom of the box - Einstein’s General Relativity thought experiment). The truth is more or less irrelevant. Science focuses instead on the production of "success," where a successful theory is one with strong predictive power (sometimes aesthetic considerations also apply; a theory should be beautiful, simple, parsimonious!). The opposite of "wrong" in science is "successful ... at least for now."

Time to stop rambling. Best, EJ.

Submitted by: mxthgrt

Tagged...Inductive reasoning essay, philosophical skepticism essay, essay writing help



I have been thinking anew about the problem of induction recently, and wished to explain and contrast two proposed solutions. One of these solutions is Popper’s falsificationism; the other solution is what I believe has been implicitly accepted and taught by other philosophers. It seems to me that both are genuine solutions, and critical rationalists would do well to recognise that, even though we may nonetheless prefer one solution to the other. I also want to briefly comment on how best to discuss and compare these solutions, because they each satisfy the demands of different people.

Let me begin with a brief explanation of the problem of induction as I understand it. The matter will be somewhat simplified for brevity, and I trust the reader to read qualifications and footnotes between the lines.

The problem of induction arises where sense observation is asserted as the only legitimate source of synthetic knowledge. Such knowledge is “based on” sense observation, i.e. scientific theories ought to be reducible to reports of sense observation. A scientific theory that cannot be derived from such reports cannot be part of knowledge.

A problem emerged when it was noticed that mankind’s most successful and celebrated theories cannot be reduced to any finite set of sense observations. The classic illustration of the matter involves the universal proposition “all swans are white.” Because no finite set of sense observations of white swans entails that there are no black swans, the universal proposition “all swans are white” must forever remain beyond legitimate knowledge. The imposition that synthetic knowledge be reducible to reports of sense observation appeared to banish from science its best theories.

The traditional response to this problem has been to propose a special form of derivation called “induction”–a mode of inference that proceeds from a finite set of sense observation reports to a universal theory. Sense observation is retained as the only legitimate source of synthetic knowledge, but augmented with induction it could now justify the universal theories of science.

Induction introduces the possibility that justified yet false theories may enter into scientific knowledge, and so a logical justification for its use was sought.  If a “principle of induction” (i.e. the future will resemble the past) could be proved by the application of pure reason, then the use of induction might be justified. But attempts to prove such a principle failed. The only means of justifying a principle of induction seemed to be an appeal to sense observation–if the future has always resembled the past before, then it will continue to do so in the future. However, such an argument must employ the mode of inference it is intended to justify and so begs the question.

The most common solution to the problem of induction is to unshackle it from deduction. In this view, induction was mistakenly jury-rigged into a system of deductive inference where it did not belong, i.e. induction was considered subordinate to the apparatus of basic logic.

Induction could be liberated from the constraints of deduction by positing it as an alternative logic of equal standing. The traditional problems of induction were thereby dissolved: induction is valid on its own terms. Evaluating induction by deductive standards was something like a category error. Sense observation remains the only legitimate source of synthetic knowledge, and science had its own special logic to derive universal theories.

Although the problem remains that induction may produce justified yet false theories, the gradual accumulation of sense observations over time may nonetheless make a scientific theories more or less probable, even though it may never prove such theories true or false. In any case, the need to provide a logical justification for the use of induction was solved.

The solution to the problem of induction proposed by Popper was quite different. He abandoned the notion that sense observation was the only legitimate source of any kind of knowledge. All sources were welcome–the issue legitimacy was moot. In his new paradigm, sense observation was relegated from the only legitimate source of synthetic knowledge to a regulator among competing scientific theories.

The universal theories of science were in no need of justification by sense observation or anything else. In Popper’s estimation, the important issue was not the source of theories, but their critical examination and testing–a theory is wrong because it is false and not because of where it came from. Induction was “superfluous,” and the justification of a principle of induction therefore unecessary.

Popper’s solution to the problem of induction is far more radical than its more common alternative. In fact, Popper’s solution is such a radical reorganisation of how one thinks about epistemology, that many philosophers appear incapable of comprehending it, e.g. accusations that Popper “smuggles induction in through the back door” tacitly assume that Popper’s goal is to justify knowledge by sense observation. Meanwhile, for critical rationalists, the common solution to the problem of induction is a crude fix to a fundamentally broken philosophy. Popper’s solution, in contrast, dispenses not only with the problem of induction, but also quickly unravels many other “perennial” problems of philosophy.

To those inculcated in the conventional rules and problems of philosophy, Popper is simply not playing by the rules of the game, i.e. Popper cheats. The majority of challenges to critical rationalism tacitly attempt to reassert the authority of the traditional rules and goals of philosophical inquiry. These goals are assumed to be non-optional, out there like material objects. The real point of contention–betwen values and goals–is merely disguised as a disagreement of logic, history, or science.

I can quite understand why many people are reluctant to accept Popper’s ideas or even hostile to them. It seems to me that critical rationalists too often get drawn into the apparent debate of logic, history, or science, and fail to address the underlying alteration of meaning and purpose inherent in the critical rationalist view. The debates revolving around the problem of induction may be a prime example of such confusion. It seems to me that there really are (at least) two solutions to the problem of induction; which solution is chosen is more a matter of one’s purpose than anything else.

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