Myths in the History of Induction

A presentation given December 4, 2013, in the New York History of Science Lecture Series, a series sponsored by, among others, the Columbia University Seminar on History and Philosophy of Science and the Gallatin School at New York University.


David Hume had nothing to say about induction. John Stuart Mill did not advocate its use. Francis Bacon did not originate his famous “idols.” And Aristotle did not think complete enumeration was a kind of induction. These are just a few of the myths in the history of induction. They all stem from a failure to recognize two conflicting views about how scientists develop universal statements and laws from particular observations and experiments. Both views go by the name “induction.” In this presentation, Dr. McCaskey will distinguish the views, untangle their entwined history, and show why, for example, we think Hume had something important to say about induction when Hume himself did not.

Dr. McCaskey has been researching, writing and speaking on the history of the philosophy of induction for ten years. He has just completed the first Latin translation and English edition of Jacopo Zabarella’s On Methods and On Regressus, to be published in Harvard’s I Tatti Renaissance Library in fall 2013. McCaskey taught seminars for several years at Stanford, did so once at Stevens Institute of Technology, and now teaches at Brown University. Before pursuing his PhD at Stanford, he spent twenty years in the computer business. He holds four US patents.

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