Disambiguating Faith: Why You Cannot Prove Inductive Reasoning Is Faith-Based Reasoning But Instead Only Assert That By Faith

In the comments section of a post I asserted that, “We can say we know induction works to a high degree of certainty.” James Sweet, of No Jesus, No Peas, responds:

How do we know that? The only reasons I can come up with rely either on inductive reasoning — circular argument.

Remember also that I am in the camp which feels that with induction as a given, deduction falls away as well. I feel that while you can always show a perfect deductive proof within a given logical framework, you cannot argue that any given logical framework has the slightest bearing on reality, until you accept inductive reasoning and use that to show as much.

I had also stated that because induction works to a high degree of certainty that belief in it is “a matter of knowledge until it is demonstrated otherwise.”  James asks:

How would one demonstrate otherwise? Because it stopped working? That would also be inductive reasoning…

I had also made a distinction that clearly we need to have different words for knowledge than for faith-beliefs since some beliefs are held proportional to high degrees of evidence and others are held despite high degrees of contrary evidence (or in lieu of evidence), and our language would be outright misleading if it did not distinguish between these two different kinds of belief.  James grants this in normal cases but does not think that inductive reasoning itself can be evidentially warranted without a question-begging appeal to its own standards for validity.  Specifically he writes in favor of saying we have “faith” in inductive reasoning:

I can think of no non-circular justifications for trusting inductive reasoning, and I can’t think of any ways it could be falsified without relying on induction (which of course would be a paradox).

I’m not losing sleep over it, because as I say, it seems a bit grandiose to label a belief as “faith” when it is shared by literally everyone, except maybe a few nihilists, and even then they behave as though they accept it even if philosophically they don’t. But by a strict definition of faith, I don’t see any way around it.

Yes, the validity of inductive reasoning could only be vindicated in a circular manner since we can only use methods of inferential reasoning to even attempt to show that it is truth conducive.  Any argument in favor of inductive reasoning will necessarily be an inductive argument.  So if the validity of inductive arguments is precisely what is at stake, how can resorting to an inductive argument to demonstrate it be anything but circular?

The skeptic, however, has no reason to go so far as James does and say that inductive reasoning is not evidentially warranted and, therefore, a matter of faith either. It is only inductive standards of evidence that could rule any evidence as warranting any belief in the first place.  If inductive reasoning is an arbitrary, non-truth conducive matter, then its own standards of evidence are irrelevant to truth too.  If all we have is an unjustified faith in inductive reasoning then it is not even a sufficient standard to prove to us that it is invalid or that it is a matter of faith.  Sure, if James’s understanding of inductive reasoning is right (but I will argue next time that it is not), by its own standards inductive reasoning would have to rule itself an unwarranted faith-based method of deriving truths, but unless we continue adhering to inductive reasoning we have no reason to believe that.

So, it makes no sense to infer based on inductive reasoning that one can know, i.e., have a justified belief, that inductive reasoning itself can only give faith beliefs, i.e. unjustified beliefs.  Because if inductive reasoning only gives unjustified, faith beliefs, then one’s inference that inductive reasoning only gives unjustified, faith beliefs is itself just an unjustified faith belief. James’s own understanding of his own inference should lead him to declare it as dogmatic.  Even though he reasoned his way there, he did so only from faith-based premises and using a faith-based methodology.

James is like any other fideist.  Take the normal fideist, a religious believer who admits that all religious truth is faith-based and cannot be validated by reason.  And let us be even more specific in our example and take a fideistic Christian who grants the Bible full authority.  This person still reasons in that she infers such things as “Jesus rose from the dead” based on her reading of the Bible.  But her thinking is still entirely faith-based since her belief in the Bible itself is unwarranted.

And even though James reasons based on his faith in inductive reasoning, he still is faith-based since confidence in inductive reasoning itself, on his own account, is just a matter of unjustified faith.

But can I do any better than James?  Can I avoid only having faith but actually have a justified belief?  Can I say my use of induction is not faith-based but rather is evidentially warranted?  Can I argue for this in a way that does not assume from the outset what I aim to prove?  Is there a way that inductive reasoning might be understood to be circular, but not viciously circular, but virtuously circular?  I think there is and I will explain why in a future post, so come back.

In the meantime,


Your Thoughts?


For more on faith, read any or all posts in my “Disambiguating Faith” series (listed below) which strike you as interesting or whose titles indicate they might answer your own questions, concerns, or objections having read the post above.  It is unnecessary to read all the posts below to understand any given one. They are written to each stand on their own but also contribute to a long sustained argument if read all together.

Faith in a Comprehensive Nutshell


How Faith Poisons Religion


What About The Good Things People Call “Faith”? (Or “Why I Take Such A Strong Semantic Stand Against The Word Faith”)


How Religious Beliefs Become Specifically *Faith* Beliefs


Faith There’s A God vs. Faith In God

Trustworthiness, Loyalty, And Honesty

Faith As Loyally Trusting Those Insufficiently Proven To Be Trustworthy

Faith As Tradition

Blind Faith: How Faith Traditions Turn Trust Without Warrant Into A Test Of Loyalty

Faith As Tradition’s Advocate And Enforcer, Which Actively Opposes Merely Provisional Forms Of Trust

The Threatening Abomination Of The Faithless

Rational Beliefs, Rational Actions, And When It Is Rational To Act On What You Don’t Think Is True

Faith As Guessing

Are True Gut Feelings And Epiphanies Beliefs Justified By Faith?

Faith Is Neither Brainstorming, Hypothesizing, Nor Simply Reasoning Counter-Intuitively

Faith In The Sub-, Pre-, Or Un-conscious

Can Rationality Overcome Faith?

Faith As A Form Of Rationalization Unique To Religion

Faith As Deliberate Commitment To Rationalization

Heart Over Reason

Faith As Corruption Of Children’s Intellectual Judgment

Faith As Subjectivity Which Claims Objectivity

Faith Is Preconditioned By Doubt, But Precludes Serious Doubting

Soul Searching With Clergy Guy

Faith As Admirable Infinite Commitment For Finite Reasons

Maximal Self-Realization In Self-Obliteration: The Existential Paradox of Heroic Self-Sacrifice

How A Lack Of Belief In God May Differ From Various Kinds Of Beliefs That Gods Do Not Exist

Why Faith Is Unethical (Or “In Defense Of The Ethical Obligation To Always Proportion Belief To Evidence”

Not All Beliefs Held Without Certainty Are Faith Beliefs

Defending My Definition Of Faith As “Belief Or Trust Beyond Rational Warrant”

Implicit Faith

Agnostics Or Apistics?

The Evidence-Impervious Agnostic Theists

Faith Which Exploits Infinitesimal Probabilities As Openings For Strong Affirmations

Why You Cannot Prove Inductive Reasoning Is Faith-Based Reasoning But Instead Only Assert That By Faith

How Just Opposing Faith, In Principle, Means You Actually Don’t Have Faith, In Practice

Naturalism, Materialism, Empiricism, And Wrong, Weak, And Unsupported Beliefs Are All Not Necessarily Faith Positions

Drunken Mall Santa
“The History of Philosophy” and “Philosophy and Suicide”
A Photographer On Why The Same Dress Looks Black and Blue to Some and Gold and White to Others #DressGate
About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    I absolutely love the title of this post, and the argument it encapsulates. Indeed, I cannot refute the charge that I am making my case based primarily on deduction, which I have already argued is dependent upon induction for validity, so my argument is itself circular. It’s a fair cop!

    I do object to being characterized as a fideist — although then again, doesn’t everybody? heh… I think I see the point you are making: I suppose I did “affirm… that reason cannot achieve certain kinds” (one kind) “of truth, which must instead be accepted only by faith.” (from the Wikipedia article) But I am not asserting the superiority of faith; rather, I am lamenting that I do not see any other way to bootstrap ourselves up through the Problem of Induction. Faith is plainly inferior (well, induction tells me so, at least), and so I would far prefer a reason-based solution to the Problem; but I simply don’t see how one can be mounted.

    Anyway, before I proceed, I want to acknowledge that pretty much everything I am about to say is subject to the same charge as the title of this post. I will address that at the end. Without further ado:

    And even though James reasons based on his faith in inductive reasoning, he still is faith-based since confidence in inductive reasoning itself, on his own account, is just a matter of unjustified faith.

    I think this is a little bit of a misleading characterization. I would assert that, at least in my view, cutting through the Problem of Induction with a faith-based assertion, and then leaving faith aside from that point on, is the most parsimonious possible epistemology. Saying “just a matter of unjustified faith” is a little unfair, when I am making an effort to minimize (what are in my view) unjustified assertions. I grant that my desire for parsimony is itself circular,

    It is only inductive standards of evidence that could rule any evidence as warranting any belief in the first place.

    I agree with this statement — and I suspect your forthcoming post will hinge crucially on the validity of this statement? But I am pretty sure my agreement here hinges on deduction, and again, I hold that deduction fails without an a priori appeal to induction.

    Still, however, I wanted to highlight that statement, as I feel it provides a pragmatic justification (if not a philosophical justification) for adhering to inductive reasoning. This is what I was getting at when I said:

    I’m not losing sleep over it, because as I say, it seems a bit grandiose to label a belief as “faith” when it is shared by literally everyone…

    We can’t even have this conversation without assuming induction first (how would I know that the syntax and semantics of English hadn’t suddenly changed five seconds ago?) so I am happy to do so. It seems to me that all possible epistemologies must either a) assume induction at some point, b) prove induction at some point based on other assumptions, or c) succumb to total randomness and capriciousness. I prefer to assert it right off the bat, and assert nothing else (except tentatively). This preference feels right, but I don’t think it is philosophically justifiable.

    To recap, though, I admit the problem you point out, that all this relies on either deduction, induction, or some combination of the two, and therefore by my own account would itself be circular reasoning. I am not sure how to respond to that, except to say that:

    But can I do any better than James?

    Nope ;p Well, maybe you can; I eagerly await your post about the “virtuously circular” nature of your solution to the Problem of Induction.

    In the meantime, I will definitely ponder your point here. You are quite correct to point out that my argument is in the end just as circular as the arguments it seeks to supplant. In the end, I think that only bolsters my case that the Problem of Induction must be hand-waved rather than actually solved. (Though that assertion is itself circular as well, I suppose… how many meta-’s are we up to now?)

    It occurs to me to ask: Do you think that a belief in the validity of inductive reasoning can possibly be tentative? You seem to imply as much when you say, “that belief [is] a matter of knowledge until it is demonstrated otherwise.” If so, how? What would lead you to reject the validity of inductive reasoning? And if nothing could do so, how can you characterize the belief as “tentative”?

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    It’s not fair that you can edit your blog post and I can’t edit my comments :p Maybe I should have responded on my blog and linked there. Or maybe should just freakin’ proofread. To complete the aborted thought in paragraph 5:

    I grant that my desire for parsimony is itself circular, which is why I can’t go so far as to say the quoted paragraph from you is wrong per se. I just think it’s misleading, since it obscures the parsimony aspect rather than refuting it head-on.

  • Daniel Fincke

    I’m sorry, I do not know what you are saying. Are you saying there was a qualification you would have liked to add to your remarks that would have preempted my entire reply?

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    Oh no no no, I was just lamenting that in my reply at 11:42AM, I didn’t proofread sufficiently and left a sentence (and indeed, an entire thought) unfinished. It’s my fault entirely. My “It’s not fair” was tongue-in-cheek. No worries! :)

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    FYI, I have attempted to briefly recap this on my blog. I don’t think I’ve said anything of substance there that I didn’t say here, but I said it in different words, so for whatever that’s worth…

  • Brian

    I don’t use induction. Whatever has worked in the past, has *used up* its efficacy and is less likely to work in the future. In the past, simplicity in a theory has been a sign of correctness, so in the future, complicatedness will be.

    Encouragingly, this theory has high Kolmogorov complexity and has never made any successful predictions before.

    It’s due.

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    It’s been days since the following occurred to me, so I’m not entirely certain I remember the point I was trying to make, but anyway, while reading this comment (which I thought was spot-on from start to finish, by the way), for some reason it reminded me of this discussion and I thought I should clarify:

    I do not think my belief in the validity of inductive reasoning is falsifiable, even in principle. This is why I categorize that belief as “faith”. However, it should be noted that my belief in the proposition expressed in the first sentence of this paragraph is most certainly falsifiable, and one that I hold tentatively. If you’ll excuse the awkward construction: My belief that [my belief in the validity of inductive reasoning is not tentative] is tentative.

    I know that’s a bit of hair-splitting, but I think the distinction is important. At this point, I do not believe there could even in principle be any information that would dissuade me from accepting the validity of inductive reasoning — but I allow the possibility that I could turn out to be wrong about that.

    It occurred to me you may not call that “faith”. It’s somewhat of a tough call. Does the “I cannot be mistaken” condition have to recurse indefinitely for it to be called “faith”? Does it have to be, “I cannot be mistaken, and I cannot be mistaken about that”? Or does my weaker, “I cannot be mistaken, but I could be mistaken about that?” also qualify?