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28. Induction and the Uniformity of Nature

COLIN HOWSON


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics nature , science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00031.x


Extract

The problem of induction is one of the oldest, and one of the most intractable, of philosophical problems. Possibly its clearest formulation occurs in a celebrated discussion by David Hume, where it is posed as the question of whether there is anything “ in any object, considered in itself, which can afford us a reason for drawing a conclusion beyond it. ” Hume's answer, famously, is that there is not: “ we have no reason to draw any inference concerning any object beyond those of which we have had experience ,” even after the observation of their “frequent or constant conjunction” (1739, bk 1, pt III. sec. XII; italics original). However extensive the observational evidence, there is, according to Hume, no legitimate inference to the truth or even the probability of any hypothesis whose logical content transcends that evidence; what today we call ampliative , or inductive , inference is for Hume no species of reasoning at all, merely a psychological propensity (see hume ). If this is true, then science stands on no surer evidential foundation than the crudest superstition. The uncongenial nature of this conclusion prompted generations of philosophers to try to find some flaw in his reasoning. This has proved far from easy, and many have reluctantly concluded that it cannot be successfully rebutted. First. Hume points out, extrapolations from experience, in whatever way they ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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