Sunday, July 12, 2009

Aristotle on Induction

[I'll reference any relevant Aristotle material at the bottom of this note, as it took a bit of digging through his works to find what I managed to find here.]

According to Aristotle, Socrates is the first person known to discuss induction and general definitions:
...for two things may be fairly ascribed to Socrates—inductive arguments and universal definition, both of which are concerned with the starting-point of science [knowledge])...[Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book XIII, Chapter 4, 1078b25-30]
Induction is the foundational reasoning activity, and is built upon sense-perception. More specifically, induction is (following Socrates's practice) reasoning from particular cases or individuals to general or universal knowledge.

An example would be forming the concept "animal": we can observe with our senses the similarities among individual species (humans, dogs, mules, etc.) and how different they are from both inanimate objects and other life-forms which don't seem to be conscious (plants would largely be our data for this conclusion)--all of this could eventually lead to forming the concept "animal" through induction. (In addition, it might lead to concepts such as "consciousness," "awareness" "life," "mobility" and concepts of particular animal species.)

Relatedly, he thought that induction is part of the means of forming general concepts ("genus") and, from there, building even more generalized concepts utilizing the knowledge gained from the earlier-formed ones. An example Aristotle gives is the inductive forming of the genus "animal" from the various animal species, and this kind of reasoning being the first leads to the formation of an even wider generalization; in our current case, we can integrate plants and microscopic lifeforms with our knowledge of the "animal" genus into a wider genus "organism." Regarding induction and concept-formation, Edwin Locke summarizes Aristotle's position this way:
His view was that one groups entities according to their perceived similarities and identifies their essential characteristics, the essence of a kind ... [t]his included the formulation of definitions based on genus and differentia [a genus--integrating the concept into a wider category—and a differentia—differentiating the concept from other existents in that genus, namely, man is the rational animal—meaning he is the animal who has the capacity to reason].
[Edwin Locke, The Case for Inductive Theory Building, Journal of Management, Vol. 33, No. 6, page 870 and 881 in brackets (2007)]

Lastly, as I noted earlier, Aristotle believed that induction was the basic or founding rational activity; the other main reasoning process, deductive thinking, was held to be a product of inductive thinking. Induction was thus logically prior to deduction, as it supplied the premises from which one could deduce.

References


On perception as validly giving knowledge/experience of reality:
On the Soul
(Latin: De Anima), Book II, Chapters 6-12, and Book III, chapter 3, 427b27-428a18.
In the latter chapter, Aristotle even notes: "for perception of the special objects of sense [like "color" for the sense of sight] is always free from error, and is found in all animals..." (427b11-13) Also, his biological treatises, such as
History of Animals (Historia Animalium) and Parts of Animals (De Partibus Animalium), are filled with evidence that he affirmed sense-perception as a means of knowing reality.

Induction as the foundational form of reasoning:
Rhetoric
(Ars Rhetorica), Book II, chapter 20, 1939a25-27.

Induction as based on sense-perception, and as reasoning from "particulars" to "general":
Topics
(Topica), Book I, chapter 12.

Induction and concept-formation:
Posterior Analytics
(Analytica Posteriora), Book II, chapter 19, 100b1-5.

Induction, as supplying premises used in deductive thinking and argument:
Posterior Analytics
, Book 2, chapter 19, 100b3-5, when compared with Book I, chapter 3, 72b23-29.

P.S. Chapter 1 of McCaskey's dissertation goes in-depth into Aristotle's conception of induction, so my summary here may be expanded in the future if I learn of anything significant in this different account.

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