Induction, deduction, & time to phone a philosopher?

10 04 2013

Two weeks ago we revisited induction and deduction, since our last discussion had left us a little disturbed. Alexandra found this good video (still below), and Walter this slightly eccentric paper on using induction and deduction in science (great at the start, a self-indulgent ramble by the end), and of course Thinking from A-Z remained our bible. We became clearer on how deduction uses principles, ideas or rules, while induction uses examples. Deductive arguments are true when their premises are right, and valid when their structure is…er… valid (and true plus valid = sound: our gold standard). Inductive arguments can’t be true or sound in the same way, but that doesn’t make them rubbish – they can be strong and likely (versus weak/unlikely) when the generalisations they rest on are reasonable (rather like the difference between a strong and weak analogy). So far so good, but what type of reasoning are we using when we conduct an experiment? We think we’re using induction to come up with hypotheses, and when we extrapolate from our results to similar populations, and somehow using deduction when we make predictions that test our hypotheses… However, it’s definitely now time to phone a philosopher: I got in touch with Andrew Bailey and he’s going to find us some tame philosophy of science graduate students to help us get to the bottom of this once and for all.

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