7 December 2013

Basic Induction: A Warning

This post offers a short warning against induction, a method in logic that is open to mistakes. Induction is used to devise general rules from specific events, and is criticised in a quote in my previous post.

1. Introduction and Application to Law?

If the sun rises and a baby is born, one may induce that babies are born when the sun rises. The problem, as should be evident, is that induction forgets coincidence. Further, if the sun rises the next day and another baby is born, inductive thinkers may readily accept their theory proven. They would be wrong of course: too many other factors are ignored; as is consideration of babies born at other times, or in different time-zones.

It may be said that I have picked an obvious answer,* but I do so to illustrate how flawed inductive knowledge is. Students must be warned against relying on induction, which may produce reasonable results, but which must be analysed rigorously.

One may also assert law differs from other, strictly logical disciplines--perhaps law accommodates induction because law is more concerned with justice than logic. If a legal result begets unjust conclusions, the judge could override logic and impose justice, instead.

Arguments should not begin with this hope to influence the judge against a more logical path. Rather, when students argue in assessments--which is practice for persuading others (eg judges) towards certain conclusions--induction should be rejected.

2. An Alternative Approach

What is the alternative? An argument may benefit if it presents a just-conclusion from the beginning in a statement of intent. From there, the argument could show how certain interpretations of precedent indicate the just-conclusion is the best result. Then the argument could show how other interpretations might destroy all claims to the just-conclusion. The argument may then, however, show how those destructive interpretations dissolve other, admirable legal goals. This would show that even though the inductive, just-conclusion relies on coincidence and is not the only possible conclusion, it is the best one to achieve overarching legal aims.

3. Concluding Self-Criticism

Clearly this solution to the problem posed by induction in law does not escape induction altogether. Moreover, the solution alludes to overarching aims and legal theory, which add innumerable questions to the initial problem. Also, without demonstrating these frameworks in concrete examples, it may be unclear why the two processes differ, and why the latter suggestion beats induction, and is not just induction-extended.

The latter framework may not even beat induction. But I hope this post motivates students to retreat from what may be the easiest line from problems to solutions--the coincidence-identification route. This post does not deny that simple or easy arguments are often best; but it does ask students to question their reasoning, methods, and paths from problems to solutions.

* The real criticism about my selection is probably that I have elected a 'straw man' argument--one that is a hollow shell of what is represented. I aim to deal with this in a future post. For now, it is enough to say that even if my example is a straw man, it does not matter because the point is only to encourage students to criticise their own methodologies. Ironically, if students criticise my selection for being a straw man, my purpose is satisfied--the critical, questioning mind is inculcated.

Created: 7 December 2013. Version 1.0.

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