Last Updated 06 Jul 2020

Hume’s Argument for Skepticism

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Eryn Croft Professor Chudnoff PHI 101 Honors October 9, 2012 Hume’s argument for skepticism about induction states that we can use induction, like causation, to gain knowledge. We must rely on induction to draw conclusions in everyday life because it is the only resource we have to work with. However, we must realize the limitations of induction. Philosopher Karl Popper successfully undermines Hume’s problem of induction by proving that induction is not needed in science and that Hume’s argument is circular. Karl Popper argued that induction cannot be used in science.

He says that induction can never be proven by experimentation. Science instead uses deduction by formulating theories and hypotheses. Science uses the method of conjecture and refutation. Hypotheses can never be proven or verified, but their success can be compared to other hypotheses. The usefulness of a hypothesis can be determined through deduction or predictions. Scientists test theories by making completely falsifiable claims. If there is nothing you can to do disprove the claim then the hypothesis is corroborated. A corroborated theory should not be considered true, merely accepted until better theories are discovered.

Popper said that a theory can never be confirmed by observation. Where Hume argues that our theory originates from repetition, Popper argues that theory begins before repetition. Therefore, Popper argued that science does not even use induction. Karl Popper also argued that inductive reasoning leads to more inductive reasoning, leading to a circular argument. The problem of induction is that induction is creating the problem and “begging the question. ” In order to avoid begging the question when using inductive reasoning, you might introduce a new inductive principle.

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By introducing a new inductive principle, you would have to make justification based on experience, leading to even more inductive reasoning. Hume argues that we need to justify induction, but Popper says it is not necessary because it leads to more induction and hence a circular argument. Popper also completely denies that induction is an a priori synthetic truth. An a priori truth is necessary and truth preserving, meaning it cannot be false. If induction is a priori, then it would not require justification based upon experience because it is already true.

Since Popper rejects the traditional inductive model in science, he had to replace it with his own approach. Popper chose to accept William Whewell’s ‘hypothetico-deductive model. ’ He said that science does not use the inductive model, but instead uses the hypothetico-deductive model. The model begins by formulating a hypothesis that can be falsified by a test on observable data. We can then experiment or make observations to falsify the theory. Now the theory can be falsified or corroborated. If it is corroborated, then it will be accepted and used repeatedly until a better theory proves better.

In Hume’s view, observation comes before theory, whereas Popper’s view is that theory comes before observation. Popper believes that having an observation without first considering a theory is pointless. He argued that theories are only scientific if they are capable of being refuted by tests. As a result, Popper thought that falsifiability and testability were synonymous. One of Popper’s biggest arguments against Hume’s theory of induction is in his explanation of corroboration. A theory can only be corroborated if it does not contradict the basic, accepted statements.

Even if a theory is falsified, we can still find many areas of corroboration. If a theory is highly falsified, then it is also highly corroborated. Needless to say, a falsified theory cannot also be considered corroborated. Merely, we can find corroboration through the steps taken to falsify a theory. Popper also acknowledges that corroboration is relative to time. He wanted to ensure that corroboration was not used to determine truth or falsehood. Although Popper successfully undermines Hume’s argument for skepticism of induction, there are also problems with Popper’s argument.

Scientists always repeat experiments in order to ensure that the results are accurate and valid. An experiment cannot be proven correct unless other scientists replicate the experiment and achieve the same results. However, Popper argues that scientific knowledge is created by conjecture and criticism; but repeating experiments is not conjecture or criticism, it is induction. You would not repeat experiments for conjecture because it would be repetitive and unnecessary. Repeating experiments is in fact induction because it is allowing for the possibility that the conclusion is false.

For example, if all of the Ibis we have ever observed are white, we can induce that all Ibis are white. This observation about Ibis is not conjecture because our past experiences offer sufficient proof that all Ibis are white. Induction is based off of past experiences and repetitive observations. Therefore, scientists’ repeating an experiment is in fact induction, not conjecture or criticism. Scientific knowledge is an infinite cycle of inductive logic. Inductive logic continuously replaces one theory, with a better more inclusive theory that also relies on inductive logic. In addition, science does have theories that they think are proven.

When scientists create a law, it is based on a theory proven through induction. For example, Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree when an apple suddenly fell next to him on the ground. Newton used his observation to conclude that gravity was the force that caused the apple to fall to the ground instead of merely floating in the air. Newton, by direct observation and repetition, proved the Universal Law of Gravitation. Popper argued that theories proven corroborated should not be considered true. But gravity can in fact only be proven true through induction, not conjecture.

Newton did not attempt to continuously falsify gravity, but instead continuously prove gravity through causal relations. If the apple always falls to the ground and always has in the past, then we can use inductive reasoning to assume that gravity is the cause of the fall. Finally, scientists must use prediction as part of methodology in science. Popper says that theory comes before observation. Prediction is the majority of proposing a theory. We cannot use Popper’s ‘hyptothetico-deductive model’ without the methods of induction because probability is part of induction. Induction allows us to predict the outcome, and thus create a theory.

Induction is included in Popper’s own models, which negates his claim that science does not use induction. Hume’s argument for skepticism about induction has many valuable points that allow us to conclude that induction can be a valuable tool in drawing conclusions; we just have to be skeptical when using induction so we are not misled. Karl Popper successfully undermines Hume’s argument, but there can also be objections to Popper’s argument. As a result, it is best to combine Hume’s argument with Popper’s argument. First, we can accept Popper’s claim that deductive arguments are usually always rationally and logically true.

For example, the word bachelor will always be accepted as someone who is unmarried. We can also realize that when using induction, there is always a gap between the premises and the conclusion. We must use probability and past observations to reach a conclusion and close the gap between premises. However, we cannot assume that Popper’s method of falsifying theories and corroborating theories to necessarily be correct. Hume believes that observation comes before theory, while Popper believes that theory comes before observation and is then proven false.

Attempting to falsify statements is actually using inductive reasoning, so Popper is not absolutely rejecting induction. As a result, we cannot absolutely reject induction either. We must also accept that induction is definitely a priori, definitely truth preserving. It is a known fact. However, an a priori truth is based on probability and enquiring. For example, we cannot say bachelors are not married without enquiring about people we know to be bachelors. Thus, we still use induction and cannot rule it out in the scientific process. As a result, we can argue that science uses both inductive and deductive methods to reach conclusions.

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Hume’s Argument for Skepticism. (2018, May 23). Retrieved from

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