1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Induction

INDUCTION (from Lat. inducere, to lead into; cf. Gr. ἐπαγωγή), in logic, the term applied to the process of discovering principles by the observation and combination of particular instances. Aristotle, who did so much to establish the laws of deductive reasoning, neglected induction, which he identified with a complete enumeration of facts; and the schoolmen were wholly concerned with syllogistic logic. A new era opens with Bacon, whose writings all preach the principle of investigating the laws of nature with the purpose of improving the conditions of human life. Unluckily his mind was still enslaved by the formulae of the quasi-mechanical scholastic logic. He supposed that natural laws would disclose themselves by the accumulation and due arrangement of instances without any need for original speculation on the part of the investigator. In his Novum Organum there are directions for drawing up the various kinds of lists of instances. For two hundred years after Bacon’s death little was done towards the theory of induction; the reason being, probably, that the practical scientists knew no logic, while the university logicians, with their conservative devotion to the syllogism, knew no science. Whewell’s Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840), the work of a thoroughly equipped scientist, if not of a great philosopher, shows due appreciation of the cardinal point neglected by Bacon, the function of theorizing in inductive research. He saw that science advances only in so far as the mind of the inquirer is able to suggest organizing ideas whereby our observations and experiments are colligated into intelligible system. In this respect J. S. Mill is inferior to Whewell: throughout his System of Logic (1843) he ignores the constitutive work of the mind, and regards knowledge as the merely passive reception of sensuous impressions. His work was intended mainly to reduce the procedure of induction to a regular demonstrative system like that of the syllogism; and it was for this purpose that he formulated his famous Four Methods of Experimental Inquiry. His work has contributed greatly to the systematic treatment of induction. But it must be remarked that his Four Methods are not methods of formal proof, as their author supposed, but methods whereby hypotheses are suggested or tested. The actual proof of an hypothesis is never formal, but always lies in the tests of experiment or observation to which it is subjected.

The current theory of induction as set forth in the standard works is so far satisfactory that it combines the merit of Whewell’s treatment with that of Mill’s; and yet it is plain that there is much for the logician of the future to accomplish. The most important faculty in scientific inquiry is the faculty of suggesting new and valuable hypotheses. But no one has ever given any explanation how the hypotheses arise in the mind: we attribute it to “genius,” which, of course, is no explanation at all. The logic of discovery, in the higher sense of the term, simply has no existence. Another important but neglected province of the subject is the relation of scientific induction to the inductions of everyday life. There are some who think that a study of this relation would quite transform the accepted view of induction. Consider such a piece of reasoning as may be heard any day in a court of justice, a detective who explains how in his opinion a certain burglary was effected. If all reasoning is either deductive or inductive, this must be induction. And yet it does not answer to the accepted definition of induction, “the process of discovering a general principle by observation of particular instances”: what the detective does is to reconstruct a particular crime; he evolves no general principle. Such reasoning is used by every man in every hour of his life: by it we understand what people are doing around us, and what is the meaning of the sense-impressions which we receive. In the logic of the future it will probably be recognized that scientific induction is only one form of this universal constructive or reconstructive faculty. Another most important question closely akin to that just mentioned is the true relation between these reasoning processes and our general life as active intelligent beings. How is it that the detective is able to understand the burglar’s plan of action?—the military commander to forecast the enemy’s plan of campaign? Primarily, because he himself is capable of making such plans. Men as active creatures co-operating with their fellow-men are incessantly engaged in forming plans and in apprehending the plans of those around them. Every plan may be viewed as a form of induction; it is a scheme invented to meet a given situation, an hypothesis which is put to the test of events, and is verified or refuted by practical success or failure. Such considerations widen still farther our view of scientific induction and help us to understand its relation to ordinary human thought and activity. The scientific investigator in his inductive stage is endeavouring to make out the plan on which his material is constructed. The phenomena serve as indications to help him in framing his hypothesis, generally a guess at first, which he proceeds to verify by experiment and the collection of additional facts. In the deductive stage he assumes that he has made out the plan and can apply it to the discovery of further detail. He has the capacity of detecting plans in nature because he is wont to form plans for practical purposes.

There are good recent accounts of induction in Welton’s Manual of Logic, ii., in H. W. B. Joseph’s Introduction to Logic, and in W. R. Boyce Gibson’s Problem of Logic; see also Logic.  (H. St.)