Lecture Three: The problem of induction
Scientific knowledge is justified knowledge that is generalized from many observations.
These observations are measured objectively and recorded.
Then a scientific law or
principle is extrapolated through induction.
Science is therefore objective knowledge that
is grounded in empirical evidence.
But the process of generalizing from instances is problematic, so philosophers consider in
more depth the method of induction.
When considering the problem of induction, we
need to separate two different distinct questions:
(1) Does Inductivism seem to be the method that has actually been followed by
particular individuals in the history science?
(2) If we use inductive method, does it actually produce knowledge?
In order to answer question (1) empirical investigation is required.
We can gather the
appropriate kind of information, and then we can answer (1).
However, (2) is a
philosophical question regarding the justification of knowledge.
In this section we will
consider and examine if and how knowledge is justified using inductive method.
The problem of induction is famously discussed in
An Enquiry Concerning Human
by David Hume (1711-1776), a Scottish philosopher and historian.
appreciate Hume’s influence in the philosophy of science, we need to understand his
theory of ideas and the structure of his epistemology (=theory of knowledge).
Impressions vs. Ideas
According to Hume, if you think about the kinds of impressions and images that we have in
our minds, you will find that there are many differences.
For instance there is a difference
between the actual experience of touching a hot iron (the intense felt pain of a burning
sensation) and the memory of burning yourself.
The memory or recall of the event is much
different since it is a faded or more distant version of the actual experience.
Hume explains that these memories or recollections are like copies.
They are less intense,
more distant, and somewhat faded.
The original experience has more force, vivacity, and
In this way the memory or the thought of the experience is unlike the actual
experience itself; just as the thought or image in one’s mind of a landscape does not actually
recreate the landscape.
Hume says: “The most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest
Thus, Hume divides all perceptions of the mind into two classes:
thoughts or ideas – these are less lively, less vivid, has less force or intensity
impressions – these are what we experience when we hear, see, feel, love, hate,
desire, will, etc.