PY1006 (2009-10

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REASONING AND KNOWLEDGE
LECTURE EIGHT: Humean Scepticism and the Problem of Induction 25/02/10 (Student version) Dr. Patrick Greenough
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1. Overview.

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Last time we looked at the distinction between two sorts of knowledge (a priori versus a posteriori). And we questioned whether we can be said to have any a priori knowledge.

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1. Overview.

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Today, we will look at one type of a posteriori knowledge, namely knowledge by induction.

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1. Overview.

The Definitional Question: What is induction? The Local Sceptical Question: Do we have any knowledge via induction?

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2. Induction: The Thumbnail View.

Rough definition: induction is reasoning from observed cases to unobserved cases.

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2. Induction: The Thumbnail View.

(1) All the fertilised chicken eggs we have observed so far hatch after 5-6 weeks. (2) Therefore, all fertilised chicken eggs hatch after 5-6 weeks.

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2. Induction: The Thumbnail View.

Another example «

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2. Induction: The Thumbnail View.

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Some atypical examples:

(1) John has cancer. (2) Therefore, everybody has cancer. (1) This fire burns. (2) Therefore, all fire burns.

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3. Induction: The Key Features.

(i) It is a method of acquiring a posteriori knowledge (of contingent truths). (ii) It involves inferences (hence inductive knowledge is not direct/immediate, but involves a µmovement of the mind¶).

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3. Induction: The Key Features.

(iii) It typically involves reasoning from a set of observed facts to claims about what has not been observed (such as future events, unseen past events, events on the other side of the solar system, events round the corner, and so on).

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3. Induction: The Key Features.

(iv) So, induction is how we gain knowledge about the future (as well as the past and the present).

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3. Induction: The Key Features.

(v) Induction is ampliative: the conclusion of an inductive argument always contains more than is contained in the premises. (The conclusion of an inductive argument is stronger than the premises.)
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3. Induction: The Key Features.

(vi) Inductive arguments can be good or bad. ‡ Good inductive arguments take us from knowledge of the premises to new knowledge. A bad inductive argument will not yield any new knowledge.
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4. Induction: Two sorts.

Induction to a generalisation «

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4. Induction: Two sorts.

Induction to a particular claim «

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4. Induction: Two sorts.

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Inductive to a particular is derivative «

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4. Induction: Two sorts.

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« «

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5. Deductive arguments.

Rough definition: Deductive arguments are arguments where the conclusion is alleged to follow as a matter of logic from the premises.

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5. Deductive arguments.

(1) Patrick and Mr Messy are idiots. (2) Therefore, Patrick is an idiot. Valid or invalid?

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5. Deductive arguments.

(1) All cats can purr. (2) Barney is a cat. (3) Therefore Barney can purr. Valid or invalid?
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5. Deductive arguments.

(1) All chickens are evil. (2) Barney is not evil. (3) Therefore, Barney is not a chicken. Valid or invalid?
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5. Deductive arguments.

Thumbnail definition: An argument is deductively valid if and only if: it is not possible for its premises to be true and its conclusion false.

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5. Deductive arguments.

Equivalent definition: An argument is deductively valid if and only if: whenever the premises are true then the conclusion must be true.

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5. Deductive arguments.

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The conclusion of a deductively valid argument is contained in the premises.

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5. Deductive arguments.

(1) Patrick is an idiot. (2) So, Mr Welsomer and Patrick are idiots. Valid or invalid?

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5. Deductive arguments.

(1) All US presidents start wars. (2) Obama has started a war. (3) So, Obama is a US president. Valid or invalid?
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5. Deductive arguments.

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5. Deductive arguments.

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NOTE: all inductive arguments (whether good or bad) are not deductively valid. Why? Because the conclusion of an inductive argument always contains more than is contained in the premises.
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6. Key features of deductive arguments.

(i) Deductive arguments can be valid or invalid. (ii) If valid, the conclusion is contained in the premises: they are not ampliative.

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6. Key features of deductive arguments.

(iii) Deductive arguments can nonetheless yield new knowledge as we don¶t typically know all the logical consequences of what we know. (iv) Inductive arguments are not deductively valid (because induction is ampliative).
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7. Humean Scepticism.

It implies no contradiction that the course of nature may change, and that an object, seemingly like those we have experienced, may be attended with different or contrary effects [...] We have said that all arguments concerning existence are founded on the relation of cause and effect; that our knowledge of this relation is derived entirely from experience; and that all our experimental conclusions proceed upon the supposition that the future will be conformable to the past. 31

7. Humean Scepticism.

To endeavour, therefore, the proof of this last supposition by probable arguments, or arguments regarding existence must evidently be going round in a circle, and taking that for granted which is the very point in question (Hume¶s Enquiry, Section IV, Part Two).

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7. Humean Scepticism.

From causes which appear similar we expect similar effects. That is the sum of our experimental conclusions [...] But you must confess that the inference [from like cause to like effect] is not intuitive; neither is it demonstrative: of what nature is it then? To say that it is experimental, is begging the question. For all inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past [...]

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7. Humean Scepticism.

If there be any suspicion that the course of nature may change, and that the past be no rule for the future, all experience becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference or conclusion. It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance (Hume¶s Enquiry, Section IV, Part Two).
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7. Humean Scepticism.

(1) Hume¶s fork: all knowledge is either based on experience or is discoverable by demonstration (2) Our knowledge of cause and effect is based on experience (3) In particular, knowledge that similar causes produce similar effects is grounded in experience (4) So, knowledge that the future will resemble the past can only be gained through experience.
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7. Humean Scepticism.

(5) But all inferential experiential knowledge presupposes that the future will resemble the past. (6) Thus, the principle that nature is uniform (that the future will resemble the past) is groundless: any justification for this principle is circular.

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7. Humean Scepticism.

In a nutshell: it¶s only rational to reason from the observed to the unobserved if one has good evidence that similar causes produce similar effects (nature is uniform).

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7. Humean Scepticism.

BUT: the only way we can know that similar causes produce similar effects is by using induction (i.e. reasoning from the observed to the unobserved). Conclusion: inductive reasoning is groundless²because any justification for it is circular.
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7. Humean Scepticism.

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In effect, Hume is showing that we have a vicious circle, as shown by the two following arguments:

(1) Nature is uniform. (2) Therefore, induction is justified/rational. (1) Induction is justified/rational. (2) Therefore, nature is uniform.
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7. Humean Scepticism.

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These arguments are VERY BAD because in both cases in order to have evidence for the premises one already presupposes that you have evidence for the conclusion.

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7. Humean Scepticism.

Upshot: even if we have some immediate a posteriori knowledge there is no inductive knowledge: thus, no knowledge of the world gained via inference. ‡ «
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8. Question-begging arguments.

Definition: An argument is questionbegging if and only if to have evidence for its premises already presupposes that you have evidence for the conclusion.

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8. Question-begging arguments.

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So, question-begging arguments are not persuasive²they are not rationally compelling, they cannot advance you to new knowledge.

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8. Question-begging arguments.

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Why exactly? Because one cannot persuade someone that the conclusion is true on the basis of the truth of the premises because the premises can only be justified if one already has justification for the conclusion.

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8. Question-begging arguments.

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Here is a famous example of a questionbegging argument, namely the proof of the existence of an external world given by G. E. Moore:

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8. Question-begging arguments.

(1) I have two hands (2) If I have two hands then there is an external world (3) Therefore, there is an external world

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10. Do you want to read more?

‡ Russell, B. The Problems of Philosophy, chapter 6. ‡ Hume, D. An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, chapter 4 ‡ Alan Chalmers: What is this thing Called Science, chapter 2 ‡ David Papineau: "Induction and its problems", in Philosophy: A Guide through the Subject, Grayling (ed).

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