What is inductive reasoning?
Inductive reasoning is a form of logic in which specific examples form the basis of a generalization. Facts are collected and then classified to determine patterns, from which an inference is drawn and a generalization is made. Unlike deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning does not always lead to a true statement, no matter how many true statements precede it. Because of the infinite number of examples that exist and the observer’s limited experiences, conclusions drawn from inductive reasoning can form the basis of hypotheses but are not likely to yield a true statement.
People tend to use inductive reasoning to evaluate what is happening in their lives and in their relations with other people. In this area, most conclusions are false because they are based on a finite number of observations and people’s own life experiences, which are limited. In essence, people examine their experiences and identify a number of patterns for situations. An example might be an adolescent who is being raised by a mother who is a drug addict and cannot be trusted to follow through on what she promises. The adolescent might have two friends who are also being raised by similarly untrustworthy drug-addicted parents. Based on these specific observations, the adolescent would then make the generalization that all parents cannot be trusted. Of course, this generalization is not true, although it might be true of many parents in the adolescent’s neighborhood.
Inductive and deductive reasoning are part of the philosophy of logic. Logic is a way of presenting arguments and then demonstrating the proof of the arguments using deductive or inductive reasoning, or other methods. The philosophy of logic studies reasoning, probability, and arguments that lead to demonstrating the cause of an occurrence. In addition, logic includes the study of fallacies, validity, and paradoxes.
Inductive reasoning is used in many areas. It is used in geometry, where a number of examples of a shape, such as a triangle, are studied and then used to make a generalization about the characteristics of all triangles. These generalizations form a hypothesis, which is then proven in a theorem. Another application of inductive reasoning is the game of chess. Different chess strategies have been developed and published, and a chess player might observe the moves of his or her opponent and identify them as a strategy known as the Caro-Kann defense. Accordingly, the chess player would then use another strategy to outsmart the Caro-Kann defense.
Inductive reasoning is used in economics when agencies use identified patterns of behavior in the economic system to determine how to proceed in investing or what interest rate to charge for loans. Archaeology is another area in which inductive reasoning is used. Archaeologists search for relics and other artifacts from past societies and then use their findings to describe the behavior and societal structure of ancient peoples. Inductive reasoning is also used in astronomy when scientists study the elements of our solar system and make generalizations about other possible solar systems, or when they make generalizations about the physical characteristics of other planets within our solar system based on examples from Earth. Obviously, in these examples, the use of inductive reasoning has a high likelihood of leading to false conclusions.
Inductive reasoning began in the Greek classical period. Aristotle, Thales, Pythagoras, and other philosophers described reasoning patterns. Aristotle wrote about logic, primarily deductive reasoning, although he also described inductive reasoning. Eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume was the first person to state that inductive reasoning is rarely true. He argued that people’s everyday reasoning depends on repeated patterns of existence rather than deductively valid arguments. In the mid-nineteenth century, German mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege began the study of mathematics and logic, in which he was followed by philosophers such as Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell. In the twentieth century, philosophers Karl Raimund Popper and David Miller questioned the validity of inductive reasoning and its use in science.
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