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Need There Be a Problem of Induction?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Harold I. Brown*
Northern Illinois University


The problem of induction has long been one of the central problems of empiricist epistemology. There are two main versions of this problem: to justify a strictly universal statement on the basis of a finite set of singular statements and to justify a new singular statement on the basis of some finite set of accepted singular statements. In both cases it is assumed that we have a set of singular statements with which to begin and that these singular statements are, somehow, provided by observation; neither of these assumptions will be disputed in this paper. But there is another assumption without which there might well be no problem of induction:

A. Any synthetic statement which is to be accepted as known must be justified on the basis of observation.

It is only because philosophers assume A that they are faced with the problem of showing how we can infer from statements which have been justified by observation to others which have not. It is this assumption which will concern us here, for if there are no adequate grounds for accepting A, the problem of induction may not arise at all.

Research Article
Copyright © The Authors 1978

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1 Hume, David A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. Selby-Bigge, L.A. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1888), p. 3.Google Scholar

2 Ibid., pp. 3–4.

3 Hume, David An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed., Selby-Bigge, L.A. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1902), p.19Google Scholar

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., p. 20.

6 Ibid., pp. 20–21.

7 Note that a solution to the problem of induction is necessary for the acceptance of A but not sufficient. Given a solution to the problem of induction, A might not follow inductively from the available premises.

8 This last clause is necessary since if no alternative epistemology were available it would be reasonable to carry out research in terms of A no matter how shaky its foundations. And if all available alternatives were also reflexively inconsistent, there might be no grounds for abandoning A in favor of some other principle.

9 Cf. Brown, Harold I.Problem Changes in Science and Philosophy,” Metaphilosophy 6 (1975), pp. 177-92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 The last point applies to all of the theories we will examine, so that we will ignore induction from singular propositions to singular propositions for the remainder of this paper.

11 Cf. Popper, Karl R. Objective Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972),Google Scholar chap. 1.

12 Popper, Karl R. The Open Society and Its Enemies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971 ), vol. 2, p. 378.Google Scholar

13 Post, John F.Paradox in Critical Rationalism and Related Theories,” Philosophical Forum 3 (1971). pp. 27–61.Google Scholar Post is concerned with the rationality of critical rationalism given its own standards of rationality. Since the issues of rationality and acceptability are intimately related but not identical, it has been necessary to make some minor alterations in adapting Post's argument to our present purposes.

14 For a considerably more detailed defense of these two premises see pp. 40–42 of Post, op.cit.

15 While Lakatos would undoubtedly have objected to being associated with Kuhn in this way, I find no basis in Lakatos's writings for such an objection—nor does Kuhn. Cf. Kuhn, Thomas S.Notes on Lakatos,” Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 8, ed. Buck, R. C. and Cohen, R. S. (Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1971), p. 137.Google Scholar

16 This is not the only source; research problems are also provided by the accepted theory itself. Cf. Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, second edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), pp.3034,Google Scholar and Lakatos, lmreFalsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes,” Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, ed. Lakatos, I. and Musgrave, A. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 134-38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17 I have discussed these problems at some length in Perception, Theory, and Commitment (Chicago: Precedent Publishing Inc., 1977).

18 Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 10.

19 I have examined the epistemic status of such principles in “Paradigmatic Propositions,” American Philosophical Quarterly 12 (1975), pp.85-90.