The Sources of Mill’s View of Ratiocination and Induction

An article, co-authored with Steffen Ducheyne, “The Sources of Mill’s View of Ratiocination and Induction,” in Antis Loizides (ed.), Mill’s A System of Logic: Critical Appraisals (London: Routledge, 2014). Steffen mostly wrote the part on ratiocination and I the part on induction.


I. Introduction

By 1800, at least in the British Isles, logic in the old Scholastic sense was, as a scholarly discipline, nearly dead. Only at Oxford was it still a meaningful part of the curriculum but even there scholarship was slight and examinations were cursory. Edward Copleston thought the decline had gone far enough when there was a move just after 1809 to replace Henry Aldrich’s already skeletal thirty-seven-page Artis Logicae Compendium with Henry Kett’s new Logic Made Easy. Copleston and a few others complained not only about the shallowness of studies in traditional logic but also about the wholesale replacement of that topic with Baconian and Lockean epistemologies. Copleston and his collaborators, especially his student Richard Whately, successfully revived a scholarly interest in logic in the early nineteenth century. John Stuart Mill’s A System of Logic: Ratiocinative and Inductive (1843) was, as we will see, a part of the sweeping revival.

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III. Induction

The philosophical background important to Mill’s theory of induction has two major components: Richard Whately’s introduction of the uniformity principle into inductive inference and the loss of the idea of formal cause.

Surprisingly, David Hume (1711–1776) is of little importance here. Hume was not associated with induction in his own day, in Whately’s, or in Mill’s. The association was not made until the 1920s. In the early nineteenth century, the philosopher considered most important for induction was still Francis Bacon. Even those writers criticizing Bacon or his inductive method acknowledged his pervasive influence. Richard Whately was one such critic.

Whately’s project was to reverse the trends wrought by Bacon, John Locke, and especially their followers. But to do so, Whately could not simply return to Scholasticism, at least not regarding induction. He made a proposal that has been so successfully revolutionary, we now take it for granted. To understand it and then Mill’s framework, we need to have a sense of the Scholastic and then Baconian conceptions of induction.

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