Seeing is believing – a common phrase that seems to be based on a common principle.
If we observe something often enough can we not say it is so?
I am not talking about the nature of reality or anything so complex, rather I’m talking about something we do everyday, induction.
Induction is a form of reasoning which assumes that premises are sufficient or even powerful evidence for assuming conclusions.
That may seem like gibberish but it can be easily clarified with an example. Consider this statement; all observed ravens are black; therefore it stands to reason that all ravens are black.
This argument uses induction in order to justify its conclusion that all ravens must be black.
It may seem like this argument is reasonable enough but according to many thinkers it contains glaring logical faults.
One of the most famous arguments against this form of induction comes from English philosopher David Hume.
He claims that induction is simply a matter of psychology or habit.
It is easy to draw conclusions based on frequent personal observations but Hume tells us such conclusions are illogical.
In the example of the raven, Hume would tell us that there is no logical chain of reasoning that leads to our conclusion.
All ravens may well be black or they may not; regardless of the correctness of our conclusion we must admit that our reasoning is flawed.
If we doubt this, Hume would invite us to specify what step in our reasoning logically justifies our belief.
This argument can have troubling implications when applied to broader areas of our lives in which we regularly employ induction.
How for example do I know when I go to sleep tonight that I will awake as a human instead of a cat?
The most obvious answer is that when I have awoken in the past I have never been a cat; therefore why should I be a cat when I awaken tomorrow?
But as we see from Hume’s example this is not a logical conclusion as it draws upon no real evidence.
I have not demonstrated why I will not wake up as a cat, rather I have simply stated that it has not yet happened which is self evident.
To this day there is no real answer which validates induction as a method for logical reasoning.
Indeed, Hume questioned if even his questioning of induction was valid given that he himself utilized induction to derive his conclusion on the issue.
Despite this, scholars, including Hume, agree that we use and build ideas for practices of induction.
We are therefore left with a curious situation in which we know induction to be logically invalid yet it still acts as a foundation for much of our established knowledge.