Induction in the Socratic Tradition

“Induction in the Socratic Tradition” in Shifting the Paradigm: Alternative Perspectives on Induction, ed. Paolo C. Biondi and Louis Groarke (De Gruyter, 2014)


Aristotle said that induction (epagōgē) is a proceeding from particulars to a universal, and the definition has been conventional ever since. But there is an ambiguity here. Induction in the Scholastic and the (so-called) Humean tradition has presumed that Aristotle meant going from particular statements to universal statements. But the alternate view, namely that Aristotle meant going from particular things to universal ideas, prevailed all through antiquity and then again from the time of Francis Bacon until the mid-nineteenth century. Recent scholarship is so steeped in the first-mentioned tradition that we have virtually forgotten the other. In this essay McCaskey seeks to recover that alternate tradition, a tradition whose leading theoreticians were William Whewell, Francis Bacon, Socrates, and in fact Aristotle himself. The examination is both historical and philosophical. The first part of the essay fills out the history. The latter part examines the most mature of the philosophies in the Socratic tradition, specifically Bacon’s and Whewell’s. After tracing out this tradition, McCaskey shows how this alternate view of induction is indeed employed in science, as exemplified by several instances taken from actual scientific practice. In this manner, McCaskey proposes to us that the Humean problem of induction is merely an artifact of a bad conception of induction and that a return to the Socratic conception might be warranted.

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