Confirmation Theory: Hume's Refutation of Induction

Michael Huemer


Hume’s ‘refutation’ of induction essentially goes as follows:

  1. There are only three possible kinds of knowledge: (a) ‘relations of ideas,’ which are things that are true by definition, (b) direct observations, and © knowledge based on inductive reasoning, where an inductive inference is a generalization from experience.
  2. Any generalization from experience presupposes ‘the Uniformity Principle’ – i.e., that the course of nature is uniform, or that the future will resemble the past.
  3. So inductive knowledge can only be justified if this presupposition is justified.
  4. The Uniformity Principle is not true by definition.
  5. Nor is its truth is direcly perceived.
  6. And since all inductive inference presupposes the Uniformity Principle, any inductive argument for it would be circular.
  7. So the Uniformity principle cannot be justified. (from 1,4,5,6)
  8. Hence, no inductive conclusion is justified.