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What Makes Induction Rational?

D. M. Armstrong

Dialogue / Volume 30 / Issue 04 / September 1991, pp 503 - 512
DOI: 10.1017/S0012217300011835, Published online: 13 April 2010

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D. M. Armstrong (1991). What Makes Induction Rational?. Dialogue, 30, pp
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hypotheses which in turn entail conclusions about the unobserved." Both Foster and I reject the "weak" Humean or mere regular- ity conception of laws. chap. Gilbert Harman characterized such arguments by introducing a phrase that is now a catch phrase: inference to the best explanation. For the core idea is very simple: observed regularities are best explained by hypotheses of strong laws. Once one is sensitized to the importance of the notion of inference to the best explanation and one has come to accept the notion of strong laws of na- ture. 4. Introduction In this paper I put forward what I think is a new approach to the problem of induction. The importance of such inferences in natural science has become more and more evident to contemporary phi- losophers. 6. 7). 11). As we shall see. involve what Foster calls "objective natural necessities. 503-511 . There was a common cause. sec. M. the Foster- Armstrong approach to induction. in favour of "strong" laws. Inference to the best explanation was in the mind both of Foster and myself. The second pillar is that the laws of nature are not mere regularities in the behaviour of things. sec. S.What Makes Induction Rational? D. The apparent coincidence was not much of a coincidence. and be attracted to. but. rather. Dialogue XXX (1991). The same idea had occurred to the English philosopher John Foster and he presented it in a paper at about the same time (1983). The first pillar is that good scientific inference often takes what C. 5 and chap. it is not unlikely that one will hit upon. I sketched the approach in brief sections of a book published in 1983 (chap. ARMSTRONG University of Sydney 1. the argument rests upon two pillars. Peirce called an "abductive" form (Buchler 1940.

The primitive certainty of having had breakfast this morning com- pletely outweighs fine-spun arguments to show time unreal. water and fire already mentioned. the ones about bread. Hume gives three good examples. Philosophical reasoning which seeks to make us sceptical about some or all of the Moorean corpus is a clear case of bringing external reasons to bear upon the corpus. Rejection of Inductive Scepticism It will be desirable as a preliminary to indicate what I take the argument to show and not to show. as a result.) To give external reasons to doubt a Moorean belief is irrational because. is to G. It is equally irrational to advance reasons against a Moorean belief. But included in the Moorean corpus are both the general proposition that we can often learn about the unobserved on the basis of the observed. for instance. Our Moorean beliefs are such that there is something irrational in giving any reasons for believing them. E. except perhaps other Moorean beliefs. Moore's defence of common sense (1925). as we are prepared to say. of course. I do not think that what I say will refute inductive scepticism. I may add that the class of Moorean be- liefs is a mere subclass of those beliefs which are sometimes called "folk theories. The reference. (A possible exception is the use of one Moorean belief to cast doubt upon an- other Moorean belief. Indeed. is silly because the exter- nal reasons are very much less certain than the Moorean corpus which is be- ing endorsed. All of us make a huge number of inductive inferences and. it will be indefinitely more likely that there is a flaw somewhere in the philosophical argument than that the Moorean corpus contains a mis- take. This does not worry me much because I agree with David Stove (1986) that for a philosopher to embrace inductive scepticism is to embrace a position that is irrational from the outset. These beliefs of ours belong to a still larger class of beliefs which I call Moorean beliefs. Our assurance of the truth of such beliefs is so great that we hardly ever think of them or assert them. Giv- ing "external" reasons for the truth of such beliefs. Given the known difficulty of obtaining knowledge in phi- losophy. We are quite certain of these things or.504 Dialogue 2." There are many instances of false folk theories. and innumerable specific propositions. Just consider the thought-experiment of bracketing off the inductive principle and specific . take ourselves to know very many truths. once again. We take ourselves to have discovered by experience that bread nourishes. flawless though the latter may seem to their propounders. the propositions advanced as reasons are very much less certain than the Moorean corpus. we have Hume's beautiful and ingenious argu- ment to show that it is not rational to argue to the nature of the unobserved on the basis of the observed. of the ex- istence of a good God who would not deceive us. water suffocates and fire burns. it is almost embar- rassing so to do. they are quite certainly true. for instance. In the case of induction.

then again. But. What. more or less following Berkeley. Ever since Hume. may we hope that a justification of induction will do? This. really teaches. so it may be inferred (though not of course deductively inferred) that all Fs. but that in the end is all there is to be said. Why should not an upholder of the Representative theory claim that our be- lief in the existence of a physical world is justified not inductively but rather as a good explanation for the particular nature of the flow of our sense- impressions? If we hypothesize that there is a continuing physical world ly- ing beyond our perceptions. apparently: current awareness of various things having. if we start from the truth of the Representative theory. After the argument has been laid out. Perhaps experience teaches. by hypothesis. Perhaps this is just an "irritable groping after fact and reason" where no further fact or reason exists. The observed Fs are all Gs. makes it all inductive. there is an inductive sceptic. So it must be rational to back our common-sense view that experience can teach us. various sensible properties and relations. Inference to the Best Explanation There is a very primitive picture of scientific inference which. we can have no good rea- son to believe that the physical world exists. I have just argued that we would be utterly foolish to deny that such arguments are good. or seeming to have. then the relative regularity . perhaps a structure of reasoning can be laid out which will more fully reconcile us (the philosophers) to the rationality of induction. I argued against the Representative theory of perception in the following way. but we can (and do) still wonder why they are. Clearly it is not deductive. it becomes very hard to see exactly why inductive arguments are good arguments. then. For. together with some memory of past perceptions of a similar sort. 3. and has taught us. except for any mathematics or other deductive process that may be involved. as Berkeley put it). and in particular the unobserved Fs. C. are Gs. Solipsism of the present moment is not far away. The inference from the immediately perceived sense-impressions to external physical ob- jects which are their causes must either be deductive or inductive (by Rea- son or Sense. It was J. Many years ago. Rational Induction 505 beliefs arrived at by the use of induction from the rest of the Moorean cor- pus. How much would there be left? No more than this. against the philosophical arguments of the inductive sceptic. So. inside every philosopher who has attended to Hume's argument. still less of physical objects giving rise to sense-impressions. Smart who pointed out to me what a bad argument this is. we have no direct experience of physical ob- jects. J. All non-deductive inference in the natural sciences has the fol- lowing form. What follows is an attempted justification of induction in that rather mini- mal sense. and causing them. I think. much about the unobserved. But neither is it inductive.

as flowing from the same. twice is coincidence. . Suppose that there is a certain conjunction of events. . govern this sort of inference? One sug- gestion for an answer grows out of the work of Hans Reichenbach (1956). It is that there seems to be no reason to restrict the Principle to causes. Smart (1982) has pointed out that Reichenbach's principle is well suited to the defence of scientific realism. Ian Fleming's James Bond: "Once is happenstance. but three times is enemy ac- tion. we will think that this second hypothesis is more likely to be true. In general. The second hypothesis is that the existence or nature of each conjunct can be explained. where the abductive argument proceeds by arguing to a common principle (as opposed to a cause) behind the phenomena. I will make a suggestion about the nature of explanation. C . strictly so called.506 Dialogue and order of the perceptions will become intelligible. 157). causally or in some other way. But is this virtue an additional or an essential virtue? My tentative suggestion is that it is actually of the essence of a good explanation that it unifies phenomena by referring to a common principle. so it is likely that all Fs are Gs) is simply a particular case of abduction. this is a common form of explanation. . It will involve arguing that classical or extrapolative induction (all observed Fs are Gs." Reichenbach puts it thus: "If an improbable coincidence has oc- curred. single principle. work developed more recently by Wesley Salmon (1978). B. the Principle of the Common Principle as it were. But Smart also notes something else. So it will be reasonable to postulate a common cause. Here we have a puta- tive case of what came to be called "inference to the best explanation. p. something more immediately relevant to our present theme. that will now be appealed to as a way of justifying induction. In a great many cases. A. A very common form of explanation is to explain how something works: to give the mechanism by which the something produces whatever it does. if any. or the con- junction may spring from a common cause. and other things being equal. where "justifying" has no more force than the limited sense proposed above in Part 2. there must exist a common cause" (1956. The first is that the conjunction is a bare conjunction: bare coincidence. ." What general principles. Suppose that we have two hypotheses about a certain conjunction of phenomena. This is the Princi- ple of the Common Cause. On any view. My suggestion is that it is involved in all explanation. We find the principle at work in the thought of that philosopher of science. in particular where a single entity is pos- tulated to stand behind a number of more or less observable phenomena. the hy- pothesis of mere conjunction will be less probable than the hypothesis that the events (which may be tokens or types) have a common cause. It counts as a virtue in an explanation that many phenomena are referred to a single cause or other principle. The conjunction may be a mere conjunction. But before giving my account of classical inductive inference. It is this extended principle.

that the proposed account of inductive inference is not an account which presup- poses that a Humean or regularity account of the nature of laws is mistaken. Given these principles. to take the simplest case. not a valid one. of course. dear old (Vx)(Fx D Gx). The Nature of Inductive Inference The way that inductive inference is to go should now be fairly clear. . the mechanism works as it does." but is that state of affairs in the world which makes the law-statement true. Furthermore. because otherwise it will not be a single principle whose existence explains the molecular state of affairs that each observed F is a G. it is logically possible that it should yield a true conclu- sion (all unobserved Fs are Gs) although there are in fact no strong laws. The first inference is.) This is a molecular state of affairs. This coincidence of the properties F and G in all observed instances is exceedingly improbable if there is no further factor in the situation which determines an F to be a G. But. does giving a mechanism involve giving a unifying principle? It can be argued that it does. Rather. and that instead the universe is governed by strong laws. 4. a conjunction of "atomic" states of affairs in- volving the individual Fs. The law that we are talking about is of course not the law-statement. But that situation is no different from any other abductive scientific infer- ence. and this is a point about which it is easy to be confused. together with the boundary conditions. the argu- ment goes from the observed constant conjunction of characteristics to the existence of a strong law. there is a deterministic law linking something's being an F with that thing being a G then the probability that any F is a G can be set at 1. where F and G are dummies for suitable predicates. The in- ductive evidence may be that all observed Fs are Gs. ontologically. then the single-principle pattern of inference is unavailable. that is. I doubt that it can proceed at all. the set-up of the mechanism. and thence to a testable prediction that the con- junction will extend to all cases. It is essential that the law be some "atomic" state of affairs. This hypothesis of a nomic connection of properties can then be tested by ob- serving further Fs. if. nothing but the universal conjunction of F and G. It is no explanation of some Fs being G that a//Fs are Gs. But this is unification. but explana- tion is more than just deduction. If all Fs are Gs then it can be deduced that all observed Fs are Gs. The new is assimilated to an already given principle. "It is a law that Fs are Gs. If how- ever the law is. So if the law is nothing but a universal con- junction. (More on their suitability later. but arguing for that negative is not my business here. The mech- anism is thus shown to fall under known principles. To point to the mechanism is to point to something working according to principles which it is assumed are known. Notice. one might wonder. Rational Induction 507 But. then inductive inference to unobserved cases cannot proceed via the law.

But I will just say this. however. difficulties have been raised for strong theories of law also. with the very same mass or length being predicated of . that there is much to be said against a Regularity or "cosmic coincidence" account of what a law is. not tokens). the properties must be univer- sals: no substitutes can be accepted. the "atomic" nature. to adapt the poet Robert Browning a little. The fact that the postulation of strong laws leads to such a simple and natural pattern of inference from the observed to the unobserved via the law is itself a (metatheoretical) reason for thinking that the notion of a strong law is both intelligible and free from self-contradiction. This. taken as types. trope F2 and G2. if varying. It will not have the unity. Not any version of a strong law of nature will suffice as the tertium quid postulated to medi- ate between the observed and the unobserved. and the sophisticated versions are open each to additional. The law would become a series of connections holding between trope Fj and trope Gi.. I cannot do this here. is quite unsuitable for our purposes. Yet the six- teen are. nomic. These properties and relations are rather naturally con- strued as universals. For the most part the criticisms are unoriginal. Of course. Premature self-congratulation. nevertheless. reproaches. [N] (Fb D Gb). because they do not yield the required unity. Taking the second point first. however.. There is no great hardship in having to postulate universals. that is required for it to function as a common "cause. then the state of affairs appealed to as lying behind the observed uniformity will be as molecular as the state of affairs to be ex- plained. stronger than mere universality." There can be more sophisticated versions of the Regularity theory which perhaps meet or by-pass a few of these objec- tions. Natural science talks all the time about properties and relations. )." I do not myself see any way to achieve the required unity except to con- ceive of the law as a relation holding between properties. But the rest remain. But if that is the case. and it would be necessary to answer these for my account of inductive infer- ence to be complete. is to be avoided. Some upholders of strong laws have suggested that the form of a law may be no more than this: |NJ (Vx)(Fx D Gx) Here the operator [N] stands for some kind of necessity. causal or even absolute. But particularized properties will not serve here. It would be satisfied by a multitude of suitable necessities holding in each individual instantia- tion (positive instantiation) of the law ([N] (Fa D Ga).508 Dialogue It is true. In my 1983 book I as- sembled no less than sixteen criticisms of what I called the Naive regularity theory of laws. • • • and so on. "sixteen damnations each sure if the other fails. For instance. properties which are universals. many of which fall into quantitative ranges (the different masses. equivalence classes of ex- actly resembling particularized properties ("tropes") serve as a rather good substitute for universals in many contexts. the different lengths.

The relation between the law and its (positive) instantiations may seem puzzling. or in there being a certain probability of an F being a G. If we are scientific realists we should favour an a pos- teriori realism about universals. If we thus hold a scientifically-oriented and. I believe. the epistemically primi- tive kinds and properties are not universals. Rational Induction 509 different particulars. postulating the existence of just those pro- perties and relations required for whatever is the true scientific world-pic- ture. This relationship might take the form of something's being F necessitating or probabilifying that thing's being G. This relation be- tween universals is the single factor (cause in a very wide sense) that lies behind the observed uniformity or frequency. But even that conclusion can be questioned (Armstrong 1983. seems to do no more. 669). But it is not sufficient. p. due to Michael Tooley(1977. Some classi- fications we will even thrust aside as not following the joints of the beast of reality. certain kinds strike us as natural kinds. To get "atomic" states of affairs which explain the multiple instantiations of the law. than establish that uninstantiated universals are possible. p. then we shall not expect that in every induction we reason from an observed regularity that is an instantia- tion of universals. We meet up with things that we classify as Fs and to which we attribute property G. we require a relationship between the universals themselves. I favour the contin- . as David Lewis puts it. chap. The most plausible argument known to me for such universals. I believe that the puzzlement is relieved if the law is seen not merely as a relationship be- tween universals. The most worrying thing about universals is the intellectual pressure to postulate uninstantiated universals. that the actual nomic con- nection involves "hidden" universals F* and G* which precisify two ranges of universals represented by the ' 'properties'' F and G. a sparse theory of universals (1983. certain properties as natural properties. A question remains whether these relationships between properties that are universals are necessary or contingent connections. We are prepared to hear. fully instantiated in each positive instantiation of the law. (Necessitation being thought of as prob- ability strictly 1. 345). but as itself a universal. But.) This relation automatically expresses itself in Fs being Gs. Pre-theoretically. This shows us why the application of a predicate such as "grue" yields no foundation for inductive inference. and we infer on the basis of observa- tions involving such kinds and properties. therefore. however. No doubt these classes have a family nature: they are families of universals that are reasonably closely-knit. in general. at best. that it is possible to get along without them. But we are prepared to learn that such epistemically aboriginal kinds or properties are no better than disjunc- tions of classes of universals. 8). perhaps which are clusters of universals in the technical sense of "cluster" intro- duced by Douglas Gasking (1960). So the recognition of universals seems necessary for the proposed ra- tional reconstruction of good inductive inference.

In the second place. and their value is undoubted. the account of the in- ference can remain the same. One will have to accept an inference that goes via strong laws. about inference to the best explanation. or rather the Principle of the Common Principle. 5. The notions are used a great deal in contemporary discussion. probably in the form of relationships between universals. and for strong laws that connect universals. The account given in this paper will remain a candidate for the correct elucidation of that structure. Conclusion Has any real advance been made? In particular. who was talking about economics.510 Dialogue gency view. conceived of as mere transition from ob- served regularity to unobserved regularity. One moral of my argument is that the principles of reasoning to the unobserved do not differ inside and outside the sphere of the observable. laws are the sort of thing that hold "in every possible world. A common principle lies behind all ex- trapolations beyond the observed. as I have already explained. it is surely a notable simplification to reduce induction to a particular species of abduction. induction. "comfortable to the human intellect. But it is unclear what is the fine structure of such arguments. but it seems that whichever view is taken. . But there is what some will account a disadvantage. perhaps a crip- pling one. why should we not trust the principles when they take us beyond that sphere? Such are the advantages I see in this account of the nature of inductive in- ference. as I do not believe. After all. For instance. whether inductive or abductive. A direction for future research appears. has always seemed a difficult and problematic inference." still the law can only be established a posteriori as a result of experience. This principle is the Principle of the Common Cause. It is perhaps worth noticing that the particular account given of induction can be used against philosophers like van Fraassen (1980) who would have us give no credence to inferences beyond what is observable while still ac- cepting them for practical purposes. As a result. Such a simplification is itself an echo of the Principle of a Common Cause." to lift a phrase from Keynes. But. But if we trust these principles inside the sphere of the observable. induction is so intertwined with the bedrock of our beliefs that there is no question of giving it up. We do not know very much about abductive argument. of course. inductive reasoning will still have to be used and there will still be a question what is the true structure of inductive reasoning. even if. Induction conceived as abduction remains as invalid a form of inference as ever. Why should an observed regularity be main- tained? The Principle of the Common Cause or Principle is by contrast a su- premely natural principle. has anything been done to help exorcize sceptical doubts about induction? In the first place. For myself. I think that we have here some argument for universals.

References Armstrong. Muirhead. Edited by J. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of Califor- nia Press. It is an interesting prospect that research in this field may simulta- neously advance the study of the Problem of Induction. 4: 667-98. p. or to what extent can they be. Reichenbach. J. H. 1970. E." Canadian Journal of Philosophy. Los. Salmon. Justus. Philosophical Papers. van Fraassen.-P." In Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. Lewis. London: Allen & Unwin. David C. 1986 The Rationality of Induction. p. ed. 83. Re- printed in G. 1983 What is a Law of Nature? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. Hans 1956 The Direction of Time. Tooley. Stove. 1960 "Clusters. G. Buchler. Wesley 1978 "Why Ask 'Why'?" In Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association. T. Bas 1980 The Scientific Image." In Contemporary British Philosophy (second series). Vol. Vol. 61: 343-77. 1940 The Philosophy ofPeirce. Explanation and Natural Necessity. E. Jack C. 51. 683-705. Han- over. 38: 1-36. David K. Smart. Po- dewski. Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing. London: Macmillan. Methodology and Philosophy of Science. 1925 " A Defence of Common Sense. Douglas A. 87-101. London: Kegan Paul.S. J. Moore." Australasian Journal of Phi- losophy. Rational Induction 511 can they be. H. 1982 "Difficulties for Realism in the Philosophy of Science. David M. Pfeiffer and K. Cohen. 363-75. Michael 1977 "The Nature of Laws. 7. 1979. Edited by L. 1983 "New Work for a Theory of Universals." Australasian Journal of Philosophy. N. Oxford: Oxford University Press. . John 1983 "Induction. Meth- odology and Philosophy of Science VI: Proceedings of the Sixth Interna- tional Congress of Logic. Gasking." In Logic. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Foster. formalized? I do not think that we know. Moore.

LEKTON « Ce qui peut §tre dit» JUSTICE DISTRIBUTIVE L'ethique sociale contemporaine et la justice distributive Presentation du sommaire Jocelyne Couture Le projet de John Rawls Roger Lambert Justification et justice proceduraie Andre Duhamel Nozick et la stabilite des principes de justice distributive Luc Begin Les «droits naturels» et les «titres» selon Robert Nozick William Sweet Propriete de soi et propriete du monde exterieur Jocelyne Couture Sur l'ethique^ et la rationalite de I'Etat social Normand Marion Etude bibliographique Andre Duhamel Hiver 1991. I. nB2 ISSN 1180-2308 UnivaraM du Qu«»c • Montreal Mpartwnent <fc phibMph* . Vol.