A worrisome issue that is often neglected in many fields is the problem of induction. Raised initially by Hume in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, the problem is related to our generalizations based on limited experience or knowledge, and how these a posteriori truths have no logical justification.

There are two basic areas where induction is most obviously worrisome. First are generalizations involving the shared properties of instances of a perceived class (ex. “All swans are white”). Second is the belief in – or the belief in a reasonable justification for – the proposition that “the future will resemble the past”. That is the assumption that events in the future will occur as they have in the past (ex. Gravity, that it will continue to “operate” as it has).

These seem like perfectly justifiable propositions, but closer inspection into the process of inductive reason reveals that there is no reason to believe that induced propositions are true.

For example, take the proposition that the sun will rise tomorrow (or, that the earth will rotate such that the sun appears to rise). I have a great deal of empirical evidence that the sun has risen in the past, but this does not in itself suggest that the sun will rise tomorrow. One might say that there is a high likelihood that the sun will rise, but given the infinite space of events included in “the future”, there is actually 0% probability that the proposition is true (x years / ∞ → 0). One might also say that the universe is governed by laws, and therefore there is reason to believe that events in the future will resemble the past because they must. However, it is also arbitrary to believe that such laws exist and apply universally. For example, imagine that there is a law of the universe saying that only one half of the universe (the half containing earth) contains a law governing the phenomenon of gravitation.

This is obviously an interesting problem and is something I only truly encountered earlier this year when studying demarcation and falsifiability. What do you think?

  1. That is very interesting. I have never really given much thought to the saying “the sun will rise tomorrow” – but after giving it some thought, I really can’t be certain that it will. Like you said, we have a lot of data saying that it has risen in the past, but we really can’t know if it is going to rise until it does. Quite a concept I’m rather new to.

    Tom Martin

    Oct 23, 09:30 PM #

  2. I don’t see it as a problem but as a reality. All systems of logic are based on assumptions accepted a priori as truths; it’s all probabilities — what is more probable, statistically. Thus, logic rests upon a foundation of unreason, of faith. The rest is built up systematically upon it ‘logically’.


    Oct 30, 05:34 AM #

  3. That’s true, and I suppose what’s so worrisome about this reality is that it compromises both the foundation and the probabilities (that is, the original proposition and the ability to support it through perceived instances).


    Nov 7, 01:41 PM #

  4. *If the sun doesn’t rise tomorrow then it may not matter, we as mankind will deal with that then or perish. Some wisdom is only wisdom in how it relates to today. You argument seems to be a opt out argument. Example, lets not study and ponder the laws of nature today for they may change tomorrow. If we find that the laws of nature change tomorrow then we see what still applies from yesterday to find out how the laws apply today which now has become tomorrow. Science has a basic premise of faith to it, but lets not go there. Today’s wisdom cannot be applied to the past, nor can it be applied in the future, today’s wisdom can only be applied in the now, for now is all we have.


    Jan 26, 03:19 PM #

  5. James:
    Some wisdom is only wisdom in how it relates to today. You argument seems to be a [sic] opt out argument.

    The intention is actually the exact opposite. We should study the problems of induction and theory confirmation because they relate to science today. The point isn’t to ignore natural laws because they may not exist, but rather to examine what natural laws are and what they pick out in our universe.

    Science has a basic premise of faith to it, but lets not go there.

    You’re falling victim to what you’ve accused me of. You’ve recognized that science is based on the arbitrary assumption that the future will resemble the past, but let’s just ignore that.


    Jan 26, 03:53 PM #

  6. There is no means of expectation of the future without a posteriori contemplation.

    Rick Faircloth

    Apr 25, 05:56 PM #

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