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However, without induction, we cannot formulate new ideas at all. Some like to use the term 'induction' specifically to refer to statistical inferences. Thus induction takes observed data and known statistics to infer a conclusion that, statistically, may be true. A doctor may counsel a patient about risks using inductive reasoning. It is reasonable to infer that the cause of the sore throat is Group A Streptococcus and to begin treatment. Sometimes, statistical data is not available. When we make devise a likely explanation for cold data, without any other information, we essentially are making a guess.

Guesses are sometimes the only kind of inferences possible.

For instance, if one sees brown broken glass on the side of the road the morning after a big football game, a likely explanation might be that a partying fan tossed a beer bottle out of the car window the day before. Of course there may be other explanations. Someone may have purposely scattered the brown glass in hopes of causing flat tires.

However, the second and other potential explanations require more assumptions. They are less likely. A doctor may be unaware of published statistics when making a diagnosis. All she may have are a set of symptoms and physical exam findings. Crushing chest pain with exertion in smoker with known heart disease and a normal chest x-ray may be due to angina.

Where Many Students Begin: Absent Prior Knowledge

It also may be due to heartburn, pneumonia, a sore muscle or other issues. In this case, the doctor makes an inference to the best explanation from the raw data that is present. She may consider heartburn and sore muscles, but she puts angina at the top of the list differential diagnosis.

An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

Angina fits the data without having to make new assumptions. When we infer to the best explanation, we essentially use Occam's Razor. This will be discussed in the What is a Skeptic?

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Charles Sanders Peirce referred to the inference to the best explanation as " abduction ". Abduction and induction both are processes in which we infer explanatory ideas from observations. Some consider abduction a subset of induction. Others prefer to keep them separate.

But whether we make a statistical inference or use Occam's Razor to choose an explanation, the basic gist is the same. For our purposes here, we will simply refer to the process of forming uncertain, explanatory ideas based on known observations and facts as 'induction'. Inductive reasoning lies at the beginning of the Scientific Method and is responsible for law and theory building.

Most would agree with Feynman that we need a systematic, reliable way to test new ideas. Testing ideas requires a different kind of reasoning; one that has more certainty. Deductive reasoning is used in hypothesis testing. Deductive reasoning takes a syllogistic "if With deduction, we make make inferences from the general to the specific remember - with induction, we infer from the specific to the general. In science, theories and laws originate through induction.

Major theories and models of learning

They are tested with deduction. Deductive reasoning is used to form hypotheses - testable "if For instance, the child with sore throat described above likely has strep throat. We could test this idea deductively: "If the child has strep throat, then his throat culture should be positive. In such a case, we would have to question our initial theory. Note: confirming a diagnosis with a test may strengthen an idea, but does not necessarily prove it.

See Affirming the Consequent.


Induction and deduction are important concepts in the understanding of science, logic and argumentation. The Problem of Induction. This paradox was pointed out once again by David Hume, and is known as " the problem of induction ". Induction cannot be justified logically. Inductive reasoning depends on an intuition that the past will resemble the future. The laws of nature that influenced past events will continue to influence future events in the same way. Philosophers call this the 'Inductive Principle' or the ' Uniformity Principle '. The whole problem of induction lies in realizing that we have no access to this knowledge a priori.

We have no reason to believe that the past will continue to resemble the future other than our observation that past principles have held up so far to the present. Since we have no prior knowledge to presume that we can deduce future events from the observation of past events, the process of induction is not logically justified. However, inductive reasoning is the only way that we seem to be able to get our knowledge. We all use inductive reasoning every single day. We assume that a baseball will strike an object with the same force every single time if it continues to have the same mass and the same acceleration.

Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning

We assume that we will see the sun at the horizon tomorrow morning. We assume that being hit by a truck will be bad. We assume all of these things because they have always worked in the past. Inductive reasoning depends on nature behaving in a uniform way all of the time, past, present and future.

Science proceeds through inductive reasoning and checked by deductive reasoning. Therefore science depends on the Inductive Principle. Science depends on nature behaving the same way all of the time. We have no logical reason to do this, but, for lack of better phrasing, we are stuck with it.

Our brains work this way. Once we understand the problem of induction, we are then free to actually choose to accept it as a first principle or to reject it. Other principles cannot be rationally supported due to circular reasoning. For instance, democracy is a system that allows members of a society to contribute equal votes to arrive at a collective decision. The justification for such a system is supported by the fact that the majority of people in such a society wish to have democracy.


In a sense, democracy supports democracy. We choose to value democracy not by logic, but by value. Philosophers of science, including David Hume, endorse using inductive reasoning. Either we hold the basic belief that the scientific method by way of inductive reasoning is superior to other "ways of knowing", or we do not.

If one accepts this premise, then one must adhere to the principles of science when pitting one testable claim against another. Causation A key assumption in the scientific method is that events have definite causes. Theories are built around the idea that A causes B. Experiments are then set up which either confirm or falsify the idea. It follows from the principal of induction that, at best, we can only infer that A causes B.

We cannot prove it in the absolute sense. In science, the concept of causation goes beyond simple correlation in that the relationship of events A and B are so connected, that all other explanations for event B are controlled for and ruled out. We can prove that A does not cause B through falsification. Indeed, the idea of Falsification was philosopher Carl Popper's way around the problem of induction.

For more on Popper and Falsification, please see the What is Science section.

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To claim True notice the capital T knowledge of causation is to begin down the paradoxical stairway of infinite regress. One may say that A caused B, but what really is it about A that caused B?