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

Disambiguating Faith: Why You Cannot Prove Inductive Reasoning Is Faith-Based Reasoning But Instead Only Assert That By Faith March 3, 2011

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

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