The Problem Of Induction
I was doing some reading last night and found this succinct statement by Ayer on the the problem of induction. This problem is relevant to the philosophy of all science not just cosmology so I thought I would share and invite comment:

"Having admitted that we are empiricists, we must now deal with the objection that is commonly brought against all forms of empiricism; the objection, namely, that it is impossible on empiricist principles to account for our knowledge of necessary truths. For, as Hume conclusively showed, no general proposition whose validity is subject to the test of actual experience can ever be logically certain. [read logically certain as apriori.] No matter how often it is verified in practice, there still remains the possibility that it will be confuted on some future occasion. The fact that a law has been substantiated in n-1 cases affords no logical guarantee that it will be substantiated in the nth case also, no matter how large we take n to be. And this means that no general proposition referring to a matter of fact can ever be shown to be necessarily and universally true. [Because if it were necessarily true, it would be apriori (logically certain) and so demonstrably true independent of any substantiation by experience.] It can at best be a probable hypothesis. [Ayer contrasts being probable with being certain, which he runs together with being knowable apriori.] And this, we shall find, applies not only to general propositions, but to all propositions which have factual content. They can none of them ever be logically certain [i.e., apriori, and hence necessary]"

From Scott Soames "Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century: the Dawn of Analysis" (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003) 262-3.



For me this raises some questions:

1. Is "probable" a sufficient standard of demonstration? If not, should the empirical sciences be abandoned? (I don't think so this would be an extreme reaction). Or to frame it from another perspective; Is a requirement of apriori proof too stringent a standard?

2. If we continue with the empirical sciences, which we are obviously doing given that this problem is hardly new, how can we manage the problem of induction?

3. Why should apriori truths take precedence over inductive/probable truths, when the latter seem to be such useful tools for living? i.e. physics, biology and chemistry have improved living standards and extended life expectancies despite the problem of induction.

4. Is there a irreconcilable disconnect between the sciences as a pragmatic tool and philosophy as a search for truth? That is, science is intend to help devise ways to achieve goals while philosophy is aimed at discovering the truth.


Jake Stone (u5128350)





Oh god. That Soames book. Here is what real historians think about it:

http://bunny.xeny.net/linked/Soames%20on%20Philosophical%20Analysis.pdf

http://bunny.xeny.net/linked/Soames'%20History%20of%20Analytic%20Philosophy.pdf

[links copied to a more permanent location — 2014-04-04]

Anyway. Your questions are good questions. And an even worse problem is Goodman's "new riddle of induction": see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/induction-problem/#GruParNewRidInd

I agree with you about your question 1. About question 4, I wouldn't try to make either science or philoosphy so uniform — they're both very diverse in aims as well as in methods. About 2 and 3, and about the new riddle of induction: I have no idea.

Jason

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Oh no it gets worse! I am not finished with the first problem and more arise!!!