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Is the principle of uniformity of nature an abduction or an analogy?

To what type of reasoning does the principle of uniformity of nature belong? Is it abduction, analogy, deduction?

Here they refer to the principle of the uniformity of nature.

https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/15135/52276

What type of reasoning is used in this argument?

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    wouldn't it be an induction beisecker.faculty.unlv.edu/Courses/Phi-101/Induction.htm
    – andrós
    Apr 16 at 19:57
  • This is how I understood that using induction to justify belief in other minds is irrational. But in general, there is nothing irrational to use. Then how to draw conclusions?
    – Arnold
    Apr 16 at 20:22
  • if you cannot use ampliative reasoning, then you're stuck deducing conclusions from premises.
    – andrós
    Apr 16 at 20:26
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    The principle (so named by Mill) comes from Hume:"For all inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past... If there be any suspicion, that the course of nature may change, and that the past may be no rule for the future, all experience becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference or conclusion." So it is a kind of abduction akin to what Kant later called "transcendental argument", from experience to conditions of its possibility.
    – Conifold
    Apr 16 at 21:02
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    I think the second argument is an elaboration of the first. The first only makes an analogy based on behavior, it is weaker. The second adds explanatory value. Based on my experience, I can point to driving forces that explain the behavior and sometimes can predict it. I can then argue that such complex behavior is hard to explain and predict without appealing to said driving forces. So if similar behavior is encountered elsewhere it is reasonable to posit analogous driving forces behind it, especially if it is predictive, and they presuppose a mind. This strengthens a mere behavioral analogy.
    – Conifold
    Apr 16 at 23:49

6 Answers 6

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Is the principle of uniformity of nature an abduction or an analogy?

To what type of reasoning does the principle of uniformity of nature belong? Is it abduction, analogy, deduction?

someone may hold the principle because:

  • it simply seems to match our observations so far (in which case it may be regarded as a product of 'empirical induction')
  • (they hold that) it's the 'simplest/best explanation' that accounts for the reliability of the scientific method itself (in which case it may be regarded as an 'abduction')
  • it is the same thing as principles of conservation of energy and momentum, per E. Noether's first theorem (a sort of 'deduction')

or even some other reason(s) that doesn't necessarily match any particular form of reasoning/inference, and there may be no final word on the matter

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  • How does empirical induction differ from argument by analogy or ordinary induction?
    – Arnold
    Apr 16 at 20:09
  • philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/15135/52276 Specifically, what type of reasoning is used here?
    – Arnold
    Apr 16 at 20:20
  • But isn't the principle of uniformity of nature used there, which is inductive? "It's this assumption of uniformity, similar outcomes from similar causes, that is the logical weak point in this argument."
    – Arnold
    Apr 16 at 20:35
  • did you read the link i commented to the question with @Arnold ?
    – andrós
    Apr 16 at 21:31
  • @Arnold an assumption of uniformity (of some kind) is the foundation on which inductive inference starts. I think of it this way: I'm going to constuct a model. I define a class of objects for which this model applies. I derive some signular model that describes the instances of that class. Then, with respect to the features that define that model, the instances of that class are treated uniformly. Now it might work out that I can't construct one such model, or I need to modify the defintion of the class to get the model to work, or (obviously) change the features of that model...
    – Dave
    Apr 16 at 23:38
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Principle of uniformity of nature is a principle that is derived from two claims:

  1. Space and time are relative and therefore aren't perceivable states of objects.
  2. There are exceptionless laws of nature which determine future perceivable states of objects solely based on past and present states of objects.

Kant calls the first principle 'the first analogy of experience' and the second principle 'the second analogy of experience'. In James Clerk Maxwell's formulation the principle says the following: laws of nature are uniform regardless of our position in space and time.

NOTE 1: Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker noticed an interesting link between Noether's theorem and Kant's 'first analogy' (here). As another user pointed out, there is a deepconnection between certain consequence of Noether's theorem and "Uniformity of Nature".

NOTE 2: It is important that we speak in this formulation of states or properties, i.e. ways in which various objects, situations etc. can resemble eachother. If we speak of mere sets or classifications of objects, there are infinitely many, arbitrary ways in which we might draw the distinction, and this leads to what Nelson Goodman calls "The New Riddle of Induction", the inability to infer anything about the future from claims about the past, cf. N. Goodman, Fact, Fiction and Forecast.

The argument that Kant uses to establish these principles is a transcendental argument: he says that if these principles weren't true, certain features of our perception of time couldn't be made, in his words, 'objective'. This means, for example, that we couldn't have an intersubjective account of which event follows another temporally. In other words, he posits that these principles are conditions of possibility of experience.

NOTE: The principles themselves are called 'analogies' because they establish analogies between what happens in time and pure time-determinations (persistence, successivity, simultaneity). But the reasoning itself isn't an analogy.

This only establishes, however, as Kant is aware, certain heuristics regarding formulation of scientific theories which cannot be definitely proved or disproved by any finite amount of data. Kant's word for it is: 'regulative principle'. The argument also relies, very explicitly in fact, on a view of time associated with Newtonian physics that has been later challenged by quantum mechanics.

Indeed, a big problem appears if we deny that there are indeed exceptionless laws of nature or when we posit retrocausality (future states affecting past states). There are viable interpretations of quantum mechanics which make these changes to our view of the world. Other interpretations say that the very states aren't determinate before measurement takes place. In fact, according to results like the famous Bell's theorem, one of these disjuncts has to be true, i.e. either the results of measurements aren't defined before the measurement takes place, there are causal connection from the future to the past or the principle of locality (in a huge simplification: "law of causality") is violated. Although the idea is intact, Kant's original formulation is impossible to preserve.

Further reading:

  1. Ian Hacking, The Emergence of Probability
  2. Ernst Cassirer, Determinism and Indeterminism in Modern Physics
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See Wesley Salmon, The Uniformity of Nature (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 1953):

The attempt to establish the doctrine which as been known as the "uniformity of nature" is a method which some of Hume's successors has used to circumvent his "skeptical conclusions" regardinig induction. The suggestion of this method is to be found in Hume's work itself, ss when he says:

"... all inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past, and that similar powers will be conjoined with similar sensible qualities. If there be any suspicion that the course of nature may change, and that the past may be no rule for the future, all experience becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference or conclusion."

It is to be noted, of course, that although Hume regards belief in the uniformity of nature as a necessary condition of the possibility of inductive inference, he does not commit himself to saying that it is a sufficient condition.

There are three possible ways in which the doctrine of the uniformity of nature might be incorporated into a philosophical systemt.

First, it might be regarded as an empirically established truth. John Stuart Mill is the outstanding historical proponent of this view. Second, it might be regarded as a truth which is established a priori. Kant, of course, maintains this position. Third, it might be held to be a postulate of knowledge, impossible to establish as true, but necessary to assume in order that inferences may be made. [...] Bertrand Russell in his book Human Knowledge (1923), gives it its latest important expression.

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  • "What is necessary is never unwise."
    – Scott Rowe
    Apr 17 at 18:39
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To begin with, the terms abductive and inductive are so ill-defined that the SEP has an entire article that tries (and in my view fails) to give an account of the difference between the two types of reasonings, and concludes that it is an unsettled question, so best of luck with that.

Loosely speaking, reasoning is abductive if it is making a judgement about the best explanation for a set of observations, which might or might not involve analogy. Perhaps a worked example might help. Let's consider the question of whether other people have minds. You can reason that they do in at least two ways, for instance:

  1. You might observe that since you are a member of the same biological species as the rest of mankind, and since we all have the same basic ingredients (with a few exceptions), such as a head, two eyes, brain, heart, etc etc etc, and since we all function in more or less the same way, it would be odd if you were the only human to have a mind. That would be reasoning by analogy.

  2. You might instead consider the hugely varied range of phenomena associated with human activity, such as language, industry, the arts, chess, the Large Hadron Collider, political debates, my immensely clever and funny novels, and so on and so on endlessly, and conclude that it would be impossible to imagine a better explanation for them than the assumption that people have minds. That would be reasoning by abduction.

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  • But how can we draw conclusions about the existence of other minds if the principle of induction and analogy is subject to severe criticism and even as noted can lead to solipsism (although I don't understand how?) Abduction does not have a universally recognized set of criteria. The criteria are arbitrary and it is also not clear how to evaluate them. For example, the criterion of simplicity is divided into ontological simplicity in which solipsism wins and explanatory simplicity in which the existence of other minds wins.
    – Arnold
    Apr 17 at 15:48
  • There are no rules by which to determine what is simpler or what type of simplicity is preferred.
    – Arnold
    Apr 17 at 15:48
  • @Arnold expecting Philosophy to save the world is a vain hope :-)
    – Scott Rowe
    Apr 17 at 17:17
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It is a mixture of induction and abduction (a word I had not known to have that meaning, but then I'm not alone).

Uniformity is the result of induction because we don't have contradicting evidence. The very foundation of science is that experiments are (in principle) reproducible, which implies that they yield the same result at different times and usually in different places. Additionally, our examination of the observable universe indicates that the laws of nature as we know them have been the same through most of the universe, spatially and temporally.

Uniformity is also the result of abduction because our observations are incomplete; the simplest assumption for the places and times we have not or cannot observe is that nature works just the same there as well. Of course, as is the case with all abduction, this is only a hypothesis.

One should point out the circular nature of the concept that nature is uniform: By definition, only reproducible traits are uniform! In practice, no experiment is exactly reproducible. The world is full of chaos and non-linear interactions. For example, every time we perform a billiard ball collision to demonstrate Newtonian mechanics the balls will bounce of slightly differently. But we "define the deviations away" and focus on the essence, the part that is reproducible, and declare that part as uniform.

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  • plato.stanford.edu/entries/other-minds/#ArguAnal It says that using an argument by analogy to justify the existence of other minds inevitably leads to solipsism. What does it mean? How can an argument for the existence of other minds lead to solipsism?
    – Arnold
    Apr 17 at 16:08
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Is the principle of uniformity of nature an abduction or an analogy?

To what type of reasoning does the principle of uniformity of nature belong? Is it abduction, analogy, deduction?

The principle itself is an observation about reasoning about the universe: we can reason about natural objects and phenomena that we cannot directly observe only by assuming that those objects and phenomena we have and do observe serve as adequate models.

I'm prepared to accept that, itself, as an axiom, but if you wanted an argument for it then that would be an exercise in logic -- deductive reasoning from premises that you choose to accept as more fundamental.

As for using the Principle, inductive reasoning (about nature) is the most direct application, but the principle underlies pretty much all natural reasoning. Without it, we have no way to ascribe any broader meaning to any of our observations, so as to reason abductively or deductively about them, either. This is ultimately a question of what it means to "reason".

Here they refer to the principle of the uniformity of nature.

https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/15135/52276

What type of reasoning is used in this argument?

It is best characterized as deductive reasoning from a particular application of uniformity of nature. The argument is:

  1. I observe in myself characteristics that I define collectively as "consciousness". [definition]

  2. I observe a class of natural organisms, which includes me, that I call "human beings". [(loose) definition]

  3. Human beings exhibit sufficient external and behavioral similarity to myself to justify assuming uniformity with respect to consciousness. [uniformity of nature, plus additional assumptions]

  4. Since I am conscious, it follows that other humans must be too. [deduction from 1 & 2, based on 3]

Note well that I am just summarizing the argument made by the author of the referenced post, not asserting it myself. Even its author acknowledges that appealing to uniformity is a weak point of that argument, which it is, but there isn't much else to it. Overall, it rests on unsupported assumptions -- not uniformity itself, but that uniformity is applicable in this particular situation.

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  • plato.stanford.edu/entries/other-minds/#ArguAnal It says that using an argument by analogy to justify the existence of other minds inevitably leads to solipsism. What does it mean? How can an argument for the existence of other minds lead to solipsism?
    – Arnold
    Apr 17 at 16:06
  • @Arnold, I take you to be referring to the last few sentences of that section, especially: "it is important to appreciate the difficulties thought to be associated with the idea that one learns from one’s own case what it is to think and feel: it is believed to lead inexorably to solipsism." That's only peripherally about arguments in favor of other minds existing. It's primarily about a specific idea that may be raised in the context of such an argument. The implication is that it is problematic to try to use that particular idea in an argument against solipsism. Apr 17 at 16:57
  • You can go into a little more detail, because as far as I know, the argument of analogy in favor of the existence of other minds can only be in one version and, accordingly, there can be no other contexts.
    – Arnold
    Apr 17 at 17:00
  • @Arnold, if you're interested in exploring that more deeply then please post it as a separate question in its own right. Apr 17 at 17:06
  • Until babies learn this principle, the world appears to be "a buzzing, blooming confusion." Without it we would never be able to reason ourselves to sanity.
    – Scott Rowe
    Apr 17 at 17:10

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