PROBLEM of INDUCTION
The problem of Induction is a long-standing contentious problem that was first challenged by David Hume and since then, thinkers have been trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to present a suitable solution. Induction refers to the reasoning method where we make generalizations about a group or thing based on our past experience. In other words when our observation of a certain object or group has produced uniform results, we tend to generalize. For example a person may have observed ten, twenty or thirty ravens and they were all black, he might assume that all ravens are black. Based on his past experience and his observation of this group, he inductively reaches the conclusion that all ravens are black which may not be true. Similarly to assume that sun always rises so it would rise tomorrow as well is an example of inductive reasoning which may or may not prove to be true. This is an interesting problem and one that we encounter on daily basis, only we rarely ever pay close attention to this being an example of induction. David Hume termed such problems ‘matters of fact’ which he believed couldn’t be justified rationally. He stated:
That the sun will not rise to-morrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction, than the affirmation, that it will rise. We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood. Were it demonstratively false, it would imply contradiction, and could be distinctly conceived by the mind. (Hume: 26)
It is true that induction helps us make sense of the world and put things in some kind of order. To assume that sun will indeed rise tomorrow gives us a sense of assurance and add little certainty to this otherwise unpredictable world. But this kind of reasoning can be both false and dangerous. For example to assume that since a certain area has never experienced natural disasters, it would not ever face such a situation might prove costly. We all know that Tsunami in Asia completely ripped apart places like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka in the matter of minutes. So since there is no predictability and uniformity in nature, inductive conclusions are untrustworthy.
Saying that we know something but do not believe it refutes the claim that if I know something, I would also believe it. Generally we are found guilty of believing what we know. For example, we know that grass is green and sky is usually blue, then saying that I do not believe it to be true would mean negating the inductive reasoning. However saying that’d knows P. But doesn’t believe it to be true under all conditions and in all time periods would be a more appropriate and rational way of putting it. We must mention here the principle of Induction which states that: “Unobserved cases and merely possible cases are likely to resemble observed cases” (Bonjour: 57). However when a person refuses to accept this, he is refuting inductive claims. For example, a person might say that all observed cases of grass indicate that it was green in color but there is a chance it might not be so in unobserved cases. Such a person knows something but chooses not to believe it. In such cases, the person would be separately a from B. i.e. cause from result. For example if every time a person touches a hot object, he would feel pain. This means that he knows that touching something hot would result in pain but he’ might refuse to believe that this would happen in all future cases. In this case B. is “an independently observable feature…that may or may not result from or be associated with a particular instance of a” (Bonjour 56).
David Hume and Eliot Sober tried to challenge the principle of uniformity of nature with inductive and counter-inductive arguments. They felt that such arguments are circular and absolutely fruitless. Principle of uniformity of nature states that past experience is a good predictor of future state of affairs of the universe. However both Hume and Sober argued that such uniformity or predictability is not present in nature and thus this principle cannot be used to justify indicative reasoning. A good example of this would be our pattern of daytime and night. We all believe that day comprises of both daytime and night while we agree that the length of each would differ from region to region. Naturally when it is daytime, we know that night would follow soon within the next 24 hours. This is what we know since this is what we have been experiencing since our birth. However this is not the case at the North Pole where day and night each last six-long months. This is an interesting and very factual example of unpredictability and non-uniformity of nature.
Bonjour, Lance. Epistemology: Classic Problems and Contemporary Responses. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002.
Hume, David. Enquiries concerning human understanding and concerning the principals of morals. 3rd ed. With text revised and notes by P.H. Nidditch. Clarendon Press. Oxford.
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