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Goodman vs. Stroud on the Topic of Induction

Nelson Goodman became widely famous for his work The New Riddle of Induction where he discloses his views on the phenomenon of induction arguing that while inductive reasoning does originate from the human habits and regularities (according to Hume), not all regularities establish habits. According to his views, justifying induction cannot dominate describing and defining valid induction. Another renowned philosopher Barry Stroud in his work The Significance of Philosophical Skepticism defines the induction through the prism of skeptical challenge stating that there is a difference between what we know and cases when what we know is justified by our saying that we know it.

Although it may seem that the two views conflict, in reality, both statements focus on the same issue: defining what is a valid induction or seeking the answer to the doubts of whether you truly know what you think you know. Both authors question the relevance and the specification of knowledge justification versus validity.

It thus follows that for both authors, the main issue is not the issue of demonstration or statement about one’s knowledge, but the issue of finding the difference between valid and invalid inductions. Although in deductive reasoning and laws of logic such principles exist, in inductive reasoning there are no concrete or recognized principles of inference.

One of the main problems that arise in respect of the validity of induction is how it is that it is going to be justified. For the induction to be valid, it must correspond to the general rules of induction. In this case, however, the rules too will have to be justified at some point through the codification of the accepted inductive practice. Similar to deductive logic, inductive logic is concerned with a relation between comparable statements (Fumerton, 2002).

It should be also noted that when it comes to defining the validity of induction or knowledge, the difference should be made between accidental and law-like inductions. This is proved by well-known examples that when a piece of copper conducts electricity, it increases the probability that all pieces of copper will conduct electricity. At the same time, if a particular man in the room is the third son, it does not increase the chances for all other men to be third sons. Needless to mention that only law-like inductions will be considered valid. It is, however, still not resolved matter of how to distinguish law-like and accidental inductions. This can be based on a variety of principles and law-like inductions are usually more generalized, while law-like, as a rule, happens at a particular place to particular people. Yet, there are no set categories to which every case could be attributed to define its validity.

Additionally, the expression of Stroud can be looked at in terms of contextualism as a response to the skepticism displayed by the author. Contextualism would define “know” as a context-sensitive word, and thus its exact meaning can vary depending on the person and may be different from the usual usage of the word.

Both authors and this is especially noticeable on Nelson’s games with color, basically state that it is impossible to perceive how things exist in the world independently from our thought, what exists objectively, regardless of our perception and what phenomena are subjective relating to the way our mind sees the world and responses to it. In his work, Nelson examines two colors – green and blue and proves through a logical sequence that we will never know whether objects are truly green or blue at a particular period of time, thus Nelson comes up with two new colors – “bleen” and “grue” to display how different our perceptions might be from the actual state of things in the world around us.

Confirmation of the hypothesis relevance in the case with induction depends on its features, not on its form that could be proven by the above-mentioned examples with copper and men that are third sons. In this case, the hypothesis also depends on how accidental or law-like the incidents are as described earlier (Fumerton, 2002).

Although their statements can be viewed from different perspectives, both Stroud and Nelson concentrate on more or less similar aspects of philosophical issues: defining the validity of induction and debate over the fact whether the justification of the knowledge or induction should be a priority to its definition and description.


Fumerton, Richard. “Stroud, Barry. Understanding Human Knowledge.” The Review of Metaphysics 56.2 (2002): 461-464.

Stroud, Barry. The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.

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