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August 16, 2009

9:05 AM

The principle of induction is the fourth law of thought



There is an all-important principle of logic and more broadly of epistemology, which we may simply call the principle of induction (in opposition to the so-called problem of induction attributed to Hume) and formulate as follows: given any appearance, we may take it to be real, until and unless it is found to be illusory.

This is the fundamental principle of inductive logic, from which all others derive both their form and their content. And indeed, this is the way all human beings function in practice (with the rare exception of some people, like Hume, who want to seem cleverer than their peers). It is, together with Aristotle’s three laws of thought, the supreme principle of methodology, for both ordinary and scientific thought, whatever the domain under investigation.

Indeed, we could construe this principle of induction as the fourth law of thought. Just as the three laws proposed by Aristotle are really three facets of one and the same law, so also this fourth law should be viewed as implicit in the other three. Induction being the most pragmatic aspect of logic, this principle is the most practical of the foundations of rational discourse.

The principle of induction is a phenomenological truth, because it does not presume at the outset that the givens of appearance are real or illusory, material or mental, full or empty, or what have you. It is a perfectly neutral principle, without prejudice as to the eventual content of experience and rational knowledge. It is not a particular worldview, not an a priori assumption of content for knowledge.

However, in a second phase, upon reflection, the same principle favors the option of reality over that of illusion as a working hypothesis. This inbuilt bias is not only useful, but moreover (and that is very important for skeptics to realize) logically rock solid, as the following reasoning clearly shows:

This principle is self-evident, because its denial is self-contradictory. If someone says that all appearance is illusory, i.e. not real, which means that all our alleged knowledge is false, and not true, that person is laying claim to some knowledge of reality (viz. the knowledge that all is unreal, unknowable) – and thus contradicting himself. It follows that we can only be consistent by admitting that we are indeed capable of knowing some things (which does not mean everything).

It follows that the initial logical neutrality of appearance must be reinterpreted as in all cases an initial reality that may be demoted to the status of illusion if (and only if) specific reasons justify it. Reality is the default characterization, which is sometimes found illusory. Knowledge is essentially realistic, though in exceptional cases it is found to be unrealistic. Such occasional discoveries of error are also knowledge, note well; they are not over and above it.

If we did not adopt this position, that appearance is biased towards reality rather than illusion, we would be stuck in an inextricable agnosticism. Everything would be “maybe real, maybe illusory” without a way out. But such a problematic posture is itself a claim of knowledge, just like the claim that all is illusory, and so self-inconsistent too. It follows that the interpretation of appearance as reality until and unless otherwise proved is the only plausible alternative.

If appearance were not, ab initio at least, admitted as reality rather than as illusion or as problematic, we would be denying it or putting it in doubt without cause – and yet we would be granting this causeless denial or doubt the status of a primary truth that does not need to be justified. This would be an arbitrary and self-contradictory posture – an imposture posing as logical insight. All discourse must begin with some granted truth – and in that case, the most credible and consistent truth is the assumption of appearance as reality unless or until otherwise proved.

We may well later, ad terminatio (in the last analysis), conclude that our assumption that this appearance was real was erroneous, and reclassify it as illusory. This happens occasionally, when we come across conflicts between appearances (or our interpretations of them). In such cases, we have to review in detail the basis for each of the conflicting theses and then decide which of them is the most credible (in accord with numerous principles of adduction).

It should be stressed that this stage of reconciliation between conflicting appearances is not a consequence of adopting reality as the default value of appearances. It would occur even if we insisted on neutral appearances and refused all working hypotheses. Conflicts would still appear and we would still have to solve the problem they pose. In any case, never forget, the assumption of reality rather than illusion only occurs when and for so long as no contradiction results. Otherwise, contradictions would arise very frequently.


2 Comment(s).

Posted by Stephen. S:

Dear Avi,
What is the case if the very self which is formulating these principals doesn't exist and is iself an illusion.
There is an excellent book called "The Ego Tunnel"by Thomas Metzinger which you may be interested in reading.
All the best
August 18, 2009 @ 5:25 AM

Posted by Avi Sion:

Hi Steve.
The question self or no-self is one which I can honestly say I have given due consideration to for many years, though I have not yet come across the book you mention.
The arguments I have read in favor of the no-self idea have all upon closer scrutiny turned out to be fallacious as far as I am concerned. I keep an open mind and keep reading Buddhist books which make that claim, but their errors of logic are glaring.
That is indeed why I think logic is so important to study in depth, including inductive logic (which most people little know or understand).
I have collected my thoughts and arguments regarding the self in a book called "The Self" which can purchased online here: http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/the-self/5161965.
The book is not posted as such in The Logician website, but the various chapters from which it was drawn are listed in the Search facility page here: http://www.thelogician.net/1_general/1_search.htm.
August 18, 2009 @ 8:49 AM