The untenability of induction

My own view is that the various difficulties of inductive logic here sketched are insurmountable. So also, I fear, are those inherent in the doctrine, so widely current today, that inductive inference, although not ‘strictly valid’, can attain some degree of ‘reliability’ or of ‘probability’. According to this doctrine, inductive inferences are ‘probable inferences’. ‘We have described’, says Reichenbach, ‘the principle of induction as the means whereby science decides upon truth. To be more exact, we should say that it serves to decide upon probability. For it is not given to science to reach either truth or falsity … but scientific statements can only attain continuous degrees of probability whose unattainable upper and lower limits are truth and falsity’.

At this stage I can disregard the fact that the believers in inductive logic entertain an idea of probability that I shall later reject as highly unsuitable for their own purposes (see section 80, below). I can do so because the difficulties men­tioned are not even touched by an appeal to probability. For if a certain degree of probability is to be assigned to statements based on inductive inference, then this will have to be justified by invoking a new principle of induction, appropriately modified. And this new principle in its turn will have to be justified, and so on. Nothing is gained, more­over, if the principle of induction, in its turn, is taken not as ‘true’ but only as ‘probable’. In short, like every other form of inductive logic, the logic of probable inference, or ‘probability logic’, leads either to an infinite regress, or to the doctrine of apriorism. [6]

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