Whenever we make some claim about the world, the phenomena, whatever you want to call it, we necessarily draw from our immediate and past experience, i.e. we engage in any act of induction in the most general sense. That's why there is no problem of induction, it's necessary to any knowledge in the first place.

My question is what is wrong with this argument?

I have more ideas on the matter, but the above paragraph is the main thrust of my argument. Note I am not saying it's not interesting and fruitful to discuss induction and classify the ways we induce, only that there is no such thing as the 'problem' of induction.

  • 2
    The Problem of induction is the problem of how to justify that, and with what limitations, a generalization from previous experience is a legitimate inference. Sep 16 '19 at 11:27
  • 1
    @MauroALLEGRANZA Maybe you don't get my point. The "Justification" is that induction is necessary for any knowledge. There is no alternative so its meaningless to attempt to justify it, at least with reference other than its necessity in the very concept of knowledge.
    – helios321
    Sep 16 '19 at 12:01
  • 2
    I assume the question is whether there are any objections to this view of induction? Sep 16 '19 at 12:05
  • 2
    I was just trying to clarify the question itself since this is a question and answer site, not a philosophy forum. Sometimes this generalization from induction leads to the wrong conclusion. However, a deduction argument would not be wrong if the premises are true. Sep 16 '19 at 12:24
  • 1
    The key to scientific and philosophical attitude is to ask "WHY" things happen: we all know that apples fall to the gorund; nevertheless, to understand why it is so was a immense step forward in human understanding od natura and the way the world is. Sep 16 '19 at 13:17

The fact that we make inferences from sense experience is not the problem of induction as presented by David Hume. The problem of induction is to find a reason for those readily made inferences.

Leah Henderson describes the problem of induction as follows:

Hume asks on what grounds we come to our beliefs about the unobserved on the basis of inductive inferences. He presents an argument in the form of a dilemma which appears to rule out the possibility of any reasoning from the premises to the conclusion of an inductive inference. There are, he says, two possible types of arguments, “demonstrative” and “probable”, but neither will serve. A demonstrative argument produces the wrong kind of conclusion, and a probable argument would be circular. Therefore, for Hume, the problem remains of how to explain why we form any conclusions that go beyond the past instances of which we have had experience ([A Treatise of Human Nature].

This need not lead to inductive skepticism. Henderson writes that although "justification" may not be available one can still have an "entitlement" for a belief based on sense experience:

Out of Wittgenstein’s ideas has developed a general notion of “entitlement”, which is a kind of rational warrant to hold certain propositions which does not come with the same requirements as “justification”. Entitlement provides epistemic rights to hold a proposition, without responsibilities to base the belief in it on an argument. Crispin Wright (2004 [“Wittgensteinian Certainties”, in Denis McManus (ed.), Wittgenstein and Scepticism, London: Routledge, pp. 22–55]) has argued that there are certain principles, including the Uniformity Principle, that we are entitled in this sense to hold.

Those arguments on entitlement and rational warrant may help provide reasons to support the OP's argument against inductive skepticism.

Henderson, Leah, "The Problem of Induction", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2019/entries/induction-problem/.

  • 1
    Thanks, this is what I was getting at! I read that Henderson excerpt and basically hold those views. The very concept of knowledge outside of our direct unspeakable experience is bound up with an induction, we have to assume that things are uniform in some way to make any statement about the world. But I would go one step further, this way of thinking, explains why attempts to solve the induction problem, in the sense of giving a justification is always futile leading to circular argument, and hence it is senseless to ask - i.e. dissolved.
    – helios321
    Sep 17 '19 at 0:56
  • “Hume asks on what grounds we come to our beliefs about the unobserved on the basis of inductive inferences. … Therefore, for Hume, the problem remains of how to explain why we form any conclusions that go beyond the past instances of which we have had experience.” Well, don’t most of us make induction on the ground that nature has order (that everything exists or transpires according to some laws)? On this ground, we are justified to make induction from past instances of which we’ve had experiences, because similar future instances will likely follow the same nature laws.
    – user287279
    Sep 17 '19 at 11:13
  • Did Hume or other philosophers who hold that induction is not justified discuss this ground? And, if they did, did they explain how induction can be so useful and those (humans and even other animals) who base their actions on the induction can be so successful in their livings if the ground on which the induction is based on is flawed or wrong?
    – user287279
    Sep 17 '19 at 11:14
  • @user287279 Henderson quotes Wittgenstein from Philosophical Investigations plato.stanford.edu/entries/induction-problem/#PostHing that might be relevant. Although we are not deductively justified we have "rational warrant" to take the past into account whether there are natural laws or not. Although this doesn't solve the problem of induction and it may make the laws a matter of faith, there is pragmatic value in these laws. Sep 17 '19 at 14:53
  • Thank you for the link. 1) I agree that we have natural warrant. But, IMHO, I think we also are justified to use induction because it’s based on a solid ground (that nature has order). If the ground that nature has order can be invalidated, then the justification to use induction on this ground is invalid; if not, then it is valid. 2) If natural laws are a matter of faith, not really exist, anything that is based on it, including induction & science, would not flourish but fail. But, IMHO, evidence so far points to the contrary. This’s just my personal opinion that I’d like to comment here.
    – user287279
    Sep 17 '19 at 16:53

Pointing out that induction is necessary for claims about the world doesn't actually resolve the problem of induction. At best, it shifts the problem from purely formal matter of reasoning to a more embodied matter of cognition.

The problem of induction is a problem of forecasting. We have a stream of experiences that we have lived through encoded in memory. When we make a claim about the world, we are effectively doing this:

  1. Drawing forward our memories of a particular category of experience
  2. Drawing forward memories of correlated experiences (i.e., experiences that occurred in temporal or physical proximity, broadly defined, to the memories in category 1)
  3. Projecting or forecasting that this correlation will continue.

Induction means making a bridge from this observed set of correlations to an implication of causation. It can never be done perfectly, because (being time-bound) we can never experience every member event of a particular category of experience.

If you drop a stone on your foot, it will hurt. We don't need to make an induction there; we can just say 'ow' and forget about it. But if we do want to use that memory to make an induction, we ought to be aware of the possibility that we might someday find a stone that we can drop on our foot without the associated pain. That is the problem of induction. We can't get rid of it; we just have to live with it.

  • This appears to be a quite faithful rendering of David Hume's argument. (Hume, "The Enquiry") helios321 in his question seems to be confusing the fact that we need to employ induction to live our everyday lives and to make carefully considered decisions about the best way to navigate. This inductive process has no spillover into the process of serious reflection and making observations which comprise the process of 'doing philosophy'. CMS
    – user37981
    Sep 16 '19 at 18:47
  • @CharlesMSaunders That "inductive process has no spillover into the process of serious reflection" is not particularly defensible today. So why would descarding this thesis be a confusion, even if we agree to ascribe it to Hume (and I am not sure he'd agree that only reason qualifies as "serious")? When borrowing from Hume, one is not obliged to keep it all :)
    – Conifold
    Sep 16 '19 at 23:53
  • "At best, it shifts the problem from purely formal matter of reasoning to a more embodied matter of cognition."
    – helios321
    Sep 17 '19 at 0:36
  • "At best, it shifts the problem from purely formal matter of reasoning to a more embodied matter of cognition." My point is that the very concept of knowledge itself presupposes induction in the most general sense, which includes induction to the future, and to the general. So in the end you cannot ask for some 'formal matter of reasoning' to justify induction, as you have already assumed it.
    – helios321
    Sep 17 '19 at 0:44
  • " It can never be done perfectly, because (being time-bound) we can never experience every member event of a particular category of experience." So, does this not imply that induction is logically sound; only that it's not practically sound?
    – user287279
    Sep 17 '19 at 0:48

Whenever we make some claim about the world, the phenomena, whatever you want to call it, we necessarily draw from our immediate and past experience, i.e. we engage in any act of induction in the most general sense. That's why there is no problem of induction, its necessary to any knowledge in the first place.

If you define induction as "absolutely any process by which people come up with ideas that involves experience in any way", then induction is possible.

Philosophers normally say that induction is a more specific kind of process that involves the following steps. (1) You do observations. (2) The observations somehow result in you having a theory. (3) Further observations are then used to show the theory is true or probable or something like that.

As Karl Popper explained, this alleged process of induction is impossible. Step (1) is impossible because it directs you to observe without explaining what to observe. Step (2) is impossible because a theory is an account of what is happening in reality to bring about a set of observations and no such theory can follow from any finite set of observations. For example, Newton's theory of gravity and general relativity were both compatible with most of the observations done before the 20th century. So neither theory follows from those observations. Step (3) is impossible because no argument shows any conclusion is true or probably true. An arguments uses rules and assumptions to come to a conclusion. Since the rules and assumptions of the argument could be wrong, the conclusion could also be wrong.

Popper explained that induction is unnecessary because knowledge can be created by guessing solutions to problems and then criticising the guesses to eliminate falsehood. The criticism involves finding incompatibilities between different pieces of knowledge, so that at most one of those pieces of knowledge is true, not by saying ideas are unjustified. Knowledge creation starts with noticing a problem with existing knowledge, not with observations. The solution is a guess so it doesn't have to follow from anything. And we improve ideas by rejecting false ideas, not by proving true ideas.

For further reading on induction and Popper see


  • I don't understand what is really meant by 'impossible' here in Popper's approach. But my argument is meant to include the philosophical version of induction which I would say is not in any crucial regard distinct from 'induction' in my argument.
    – helios321
    Sep 16 '19 at 12:34
  • The word impossible means not possible, as in it cannot be done. You haven't asked any questions about the argument I gave, so I can't give any further explanations of what confuses you.
    – alanf
    Sep 17 '19 at 6:13
  • If my impossible you mean you can't use induction to get any certain knowledge, then yes I agree. But I meant to pose the problem as a matter of justifying induction. In this way I also say it is impossible. So we may be talking at crossroads.
    – helios321
    Sep 17 '19 at 11:05

@helios- In your question you make the following statement and it Represents an assumption whose merits are typically not questioned. That's why there is no problem of induction, it's necessary to any knowledge in the first place What follows is a response to that assertion, about induction being 'necessary to any knowledge'.

In this Excerpt HF Hallett perhaps the foremost Spinoza scholar of any time period explains why Spinoza selected 'deduction' as the 'only' method for establishing any philosophical certainty whatsoever. Hallett explains that the sensible world is comprised of any infinity of parts, none of which represents anything which philosophers refer to as 'real'. If you reflect on what Hallett says and also consider just how many so-called 'laws of nature' become overturned and replaced with new 'laws'; Newton, replaced by contemporary cosmology/ astrophysics, for example, you may want to consider what Spinoza has on offer to replace induction.

From the Preface to ‘Spinoza the Elements of His Philosophy’ By H.F. Hallett

“Probably no philosopher of repute has been worse served by his expositors and commentators than Spinoza. Monist, pantheist, atheist, acosmist, ethical nihilist, mechanist, mystic, and even dialectical materialist, are among the epithets more or less commonly used to describe and pigeon-hole a doctrine which, nevertheless, though neglected, misinterpreted and deplored, has never been despised as a mere curiosity. Philosophical Thinkers as disparate as Hegel and Bergson have regarded Spinoza as the ‘philosopher’s philosopher’, and the recollection of him operates as a sort of ‘conscience’ from which philosophers, however alien in thought and critically disposed, can never feel wholly ‘safe’. This, doubtless, is due in part to Spinoza’s reputation for intellectual candor and disinterestedness, but also, and perhaps even more, to the haunting suspicion that essential clues to the solution of worldproblems are still to be discovered if the ‘eyes of the mind’ can be brought to see by the aid of the intellectual lenses that he so assiduously polished in the pages of the “Ethics” and elsewhere.

But there is no easy way by which these aids may be acquired. Certainly, Spinoza is not to be understood by those who, avoiding his admittedly difficult texts, turn to the inadequate and eccentric interpretations of writers who, by reason of their own presuppositions , derived from schools of thought alien to Spinoza- presuppositions that they have not had the intellectual detachment to correct- cannot but fail to present an account adequate to the profundity of his thought, or even, as in many cases, to do elementary justice to his philosophical sagacity and plain sense. For it is not easy for the modern mind, steeped as it is in empiricist modes of thought subsequently developed, to take Spinoza’s Hidden Discovery 10

up the intellectual standpoint from which alone the thought of Spinoza is intelligible. Yet, of course, until this has been accomplished, exposition and criticism alike are futile.

Of no philosopher is it more true to say, than of Spinoza, that it is from a careful study of his own words, avoiding a too-great readiness in the early stages to draw conclusions that he himself does not draw- conclusions that are often but the offspring of presuppositions alien and even anachronistic- that true profit is likely to accrue to the serious student. Yet this is to ask not just a little, both by way of caution and by way of persistence, for many of his key-terms have subsequently gathered an alien connotation, and his literary style is in general dry, laconic, and in a form (though not in significance) abstract and prima facie forbidding to those who take pleasure in the plain commonsense of a Locke, the easy charm of a Berkeley, the sub-humorous ingenuousness of a Hume, or the analogical fertility of a Bacon, a Schopenhauer, or a Bergson. Not that he cannot on occasion write with simplicity, clarity, and verve but in general, earnestness and concentration, with a certain detachment, suppress the man in the interests of the doctrine. Regards, And nice observation, welcome to the 'Stack'. Charles M. Saunders

  • Hi, but your excerpt doesn't actually say much about induction. You just quote a bunch of other stuff. Anyway, I agree that if you mean knowledge to mean 'something certain' then nothing can be justified to be knowledge based on induction.
    – helios321
    Sep 20 '19 at 12:54

The problem of induction as a basis for knowledge is that new facts we discover may, and very often do, contradict our past inductive inferences.

We are thereby forcibly led to accept, again and again and again, that we didn't know what we thought, and often vehemently asserted, that we knew.

Thus, we can only inductively infer that we don't really know whether any of our many inductive inferences is any actual knowledge.

Induction invalidates itself as actual knowledge.

Anything we think we know on the basis of past experience and induction may turn out to be wrong.

That seems enough as a serious problem.

But it is only a problem for those who are trying to prove that they know something of the world on the basis of their experience of the world.

Try to use "I believe that ..." instead of "I know that ..." and the problem will disappear.

There is no problem of induction as a basis for our beliefs about the world.

  • Spinoza explained that all of the 'matter' which comprises the sensible world must be understood, in terms of philosophical investigation, as 'aids to the imagination'. That includes: time, quantity, number, duration and all material regress. This does not denigrate induction or the sensible world. It simply describes its place in allowing us to learn and to grow in our knowledge at the rudimentary level. Once we have mastered this level of understanding, we can move beyond it, to deducing with certainty from immutable laws. CMS
    – user37981
    Sep 18 '19 at 15:21
  • @CharlesMSaunders 1. Good for Spinoza, but I don't see how this could falsify what I say here. Induction invalidates itself as actual knowledge. This is not "denigration", this is logic. - 2. Also, please quote Spinoza. It's not cricket to pass off your personal interpretation of him as if it was the verbatim. What does he actually say about knowledge of the world? The word "knowledge" doesn't even feature in your own piece! Sep 18 '19 at 16:30
  • @speakpigeon- Will do, in a bit. For now let me point you to Spinoza's definitions of the types of knowledge. The four types of knowledge (perception) can be found in the Treatise, "On the Improvement of the Understanding" (TIE) page 8. Need to do a bit of research to find the proposition in which he insists that deduction from 'first principles' or Laws of Nature' is the only way to derive certainty. Until then, if you can find the time, visit; charlessaunders5.academia.edu, there you will find my four books on Spinoza's "Ethics" and various essays and papers all Spinoza oriented. Cheers, CS
    – user37981
    Sep 19 '19 at 15:23
  • @CharlesMSaunders 1. What are "first principles"? If they are things you don't know, then you won't derive certainty from them. And we certainly don't know the laws of nature. - 2. Certainty isn't knowledge. I may be certain of p even if p is false. - 3. Deduction doesn't provide certainty. It is the other way around. The fact that we say A implies B is merely a way of saying that we are certain that B given A. Sep 19 '19 at 15:43
  • @speakpigeon- Good moniker, in that since adding logical word games to any discussion like 'p even if p', adds nothing, represents nothing, makes no appreciable reference to any form of knowledge and as a part of logic, is any empty set, to boot. As for first principles- if we begin 'motion and rest'. This activity features everywhere in the universe all at once, including inside your body. It is the common universal feature which unites everything. If we begin to build a 'science' call it 'the physics of movement', from this principle we can deduce all the rest. Adios! Charles M. Saunders
    – user37981
    Sep 19 '19 at 17:33

...there is no problem of induction, it's necessary to any knowledge in the first place.

There is a difference between making one observation of one event, and drawing a generalization after observing a series of similar events. The first (one event) requires an understanding of human perception, but not of induction. In the second (generalization), induction is unavoidable.

The difference is between the observation, “This seed grew into an apple tree”, and the prediction, “All these similar seeds will grow into apple trees.”

The problem of justification remains present because justification is essential to every prediction. The problem is present every moment and never dissolves.

Hume saw the prediction problem in the game of billiards. He saw no justification favoring one predicted move as opposed to any other.

When I see, for instance, a Billiard-ball moving in a straight line towards another; even suppose motion in the second ball should by accident be suggested to me, as the result of their contact or impulse; may I not conceive, that a hundred different events might as well follow from that cause? May not both these balls remain at absolute rest? May not the first ball return in a straight line, or leap off from the second in any line or direction? All these suppositions are consistent and conceivable. Why then should we give the preference to one, which is no more consistent or conceivable than the rest? (Hume, §25)(emphasis added)

It may be that there is no alternative to thinking that 7 + 5 = 12. But the question always remains why there is a reason for thinking so.


Hume, David. 1902. An enquiry concerning human understanding, 2nd Ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge, ed. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/9662

  • "The problem of justification remains present because justification is essential to every prediction" No it is not essential to the very activity of gaining knowledge. My point is exactly that it does not make sense to ask for a justification of induction precisely because it it inherent, and presupposed in all activities of knowledge seeking. Once you release yourself from the need that 'everything needs to be 'rationally' justified' and understand the assumptions in the so called 'problem' in this way you don't see it as a 'problem' anymore. Just a mental knot, which you tied yourself
    – helios321
    Sep 17 '19 at 3:42
  • You are answering a different question than the one you asked. @Frank_Hubeny understood the distinction in the first sentence of his answer. Sep 17 '19 at 5:39
  • Well depends what you mean by 'answering' the question. I'm responding to the question by saying it is absurd, nonsensical and impossible to answer. The 'problem' can simply be put to rest.
    – helios321
    Sep 17 '19 at 5:55

@speakpidgeon- Will add to the comments section in order to respond to your question concerning 'first principles'. But first, you asked to see what Spinoza has to say about knowledge, and so here are two Notes to Proposition XL Ethics Part 2- On the Nature and Origin of the Mind.

"Nevertheless, in order not to omit anything necessary to be known, I will briefly set down the causes, whence are derived the terms styled transcendental, such as Being, Thing, Something. These terms arose from the fact, that the human body, being limited, is only capable of distinctly forming a certain number of images (what an image is I explained in the II. xvii. note) within itself at the same time ; if this number be exceeded, the images will begin to be confused ; if this number of images, of which the body is capable of forming distinctly within itself, be largely exceeded, all will become entirely confused one with another. This being so, it is evident (from II. Prop. xvii. Coroll., and xviii.) that the human mind can distinctly imagine as many things simultaneously, as its body can form images simultaneously. When the images become quite confused in the body, the mind also imagines all bodies confusedly without any distinction, and will comprehend them, as it were, under one attribute, namely, under the attribute of Being, Thing, &c. The same conclusion can be drawn from the fact that images are not always equally vivid, and from other analogous causes, which there is no need to explain here ; for the purpose which we have in view it is sufficient for us to consider one only. All may be reduced to this, that these terms represent ideas in the highest degree confused. From similar causes arise those notions, which we call general, such as man, horse, dog, &c. They arise, to wit, from the fact that so many images, for instance, of men, are formed simultaneously in the human mind, that the powers of imagination break down, not indeed utterly, but to the extent of the mind losing count of small differences between individuals (e.g. colour, size, &c.) and their definite number, and only distinctly imagining that, in which all the individuals, in so far as the body is affected by them, agree ; for that is the point, in which each of the said individuals chiefly affected the body ; this the mind expresses by the name man, and this it predicates of an infinite number of particular individuals. For, as we have said, it is unable to imagine the definite number of individuals. We must, however, bear in mind, that these general notions are not formed by all men in the same way, but vary in each individual according as the point varies, whereby the body has been most often affected and which the mind most easily imagines or remembers. For instance, those who have most often regarded with admiration the stature of man, will by the name of man understand an animal of erect stature ; those who have been accustomed to regard some other attribute, will form a different general image of man, for instance, that man is a laughing animal, a two-footed animal without feathers, a rational animal, and thus, in other cases, everyone will form general images of things according to the habit of his body. It is thus not to be wondered at, that among philosophers, who seek to explain things in nature merely by the images formed of them, so many controversies should have arisen. Note II.—From all that has been said above it is clear, that we, in many cases, perceive and form our general notions :— (1.) From particular things represented to our intellect fragmentarily, confusedly, and without order through our senses (II. xxix. Coroll.) ; I have settled to call such perceptions by the name of knowledge from the mere suggestions of experience.[4] (2.) From symbols, e.g., from the fact of having read or heard certain words we remember things and form certain ideas concerning them, similar to those through which we imagine things (II. xviii. note). I shall call both these ways of regarding things knowledge of the first kind, opinion, or imagination. (3.) From the fact that we have notions common to all men, and adequate ideas of the properties of things (II. xxxviii. Coroll., xxxix. and Coroll. and xl.) ; this I call reason and knowledge of the second kind. Besides these two kinds of knowledge, there is, as I will hereafter show, a third kind of knowledge, which we will call intuition. This kind of knowledge proceeds from an adequate idea of the absolute essence of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the essence of things. I will illustrate all three kinds of knowledge by a single example. Three numbers are given for finding a fourth, which shall be to the third as the second is to the first. Tradesmen without hesitation multiply the second by the third, and divide the product by the first ; either because they have not forgotten the rule which they received from a master without any proof, or because they have often made trial of it with simple numbers, or by virtue of the proof of the nineteenth proposition of the seventh book of Euclid, namely, in virtue of the general property of proportionals. But with very simple numbers there is no need of this. For instance, one, two, three, being given, everyone can see that the fourth proportional is six ; and this is much clearer, because we infer the fourth number from an intuitive grasping of the ratio, which the first bears to the second."

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