Induction is absurd

by Neil Rickert

The term “induction” is used in a variety of ways. For example, it is sometime applied to statistical inference. I do not find anything absurd with statistical inference, if it is done properly.

The absurdity that I am posting about, is with respect to what is sometimes called “philosophical induction.” Here’s an example of that kind of induction:

All the many crows that I have seen are black. Therefore all crows are black.

That’s the example that David Stove used in his book “The Rationality of Induction.”

We are born into a world where there are no crows. As a child grows, she eventually learns to carve that world up into parts and to name the parts. What we call “crows” comes from that carving up operation (or that categorizing operation). For that matter, we are born into a world without black. We later learn to categorize into colors such as black, green, red, blue, yellow. That we have black things depends on our categorizing into colors. That we see crows depends on our categorizing into things.

Whether all crows are black depends on how we categorized into things and on how we categorized into colors. Categorizing can be considered an empirical operation that depends very much on interaction with the world.

Philosophical induction attempts to argue that crows are black. But it does so as on the basis of entirely non-empirical reasoning about abstract propositions. And that is what makes it absurd.

Nelson Goodman’s “grue problem” illustrates the same point. In effect, Goodman uses a very atypical way of categorizing colors (into grue and bleen), and comes up with what appears to be an absurd induction. But we can readily see that the problem here is in the way that colors are categorized.


One Comment to “Induction is absurd”

  1. And humans are the only species who feel a need to categorize and name every thing they see, and some they can’t see.

    Liked by 2 people

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