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Hume on induction (sort of)

Reading this from the Enquiry, in the section on Miracles (Chapter X), it hit me Hume is describing induction*…

A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence. In such conclusions as are founded on an infallible experience, he expects the event with the last degree of assurance, and regards his past experience as a full proof of the future existence of that event. In other cases, he proceeds with more caution: he weighs the opposite experiments: he considers which side is supported by the greater number of experiments: to that side he inclines, with doubt and hesitation; and when at last he fixes his judgement, the evidence exceeds not what we properly call probability. All probability, then, supposes an opposition of experiments and observations, where the one side is found to overbalance the other, and to produce a degree of evidence, proportioned to the superiority. A hundred instances or experiments on one side, and fifty on another, afford a doubtful expectation of any event; though a hundred uniform experiments, with only one that is contradictory, reasonably beget a pretty strong degree of assurance. In all cases, we must balance the opposite experiments, where they are opposite, and deduct the smaller number from the greater, in order to know the exact force of the superior evidence.

* Yes, I am that slow.


  1. Jim Thomerson Jim Thomerson

    I predict, with great confidence, that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. There are two causes of this confidence. First, we have observed sunrise every morning so long as we have been able to make observations. Secondly, we have a dairly recent, but robust, well tested theory of how the earth and solar system work, which predicts sunrise every morning. Which of these two should be more important in supporting my confidence? I hope this is a question of interest.

    • Jeb Jeb

      Both should be important in tempering belief.

      The first observation suggests that when an acorn hits me on the head I am not going to view the event like chicken licken and will instead find his antics amusing. The fact that both observations support each other gives some confidence in reaching the conclusion that folk working in science and theory do not need to cry wolf and adopt the extreme solution of foxy loxy.

  2. Raving Raving

    Didn’t realize that mathematical proof by induction (exact description by way of induction) was outdated.

    You/Hume are describing a means of standing exterior to considerations (remaining objective) while permitting for small(?) leakage of uncertainty/error into the object of focus.

    (Safe by asserting that contamination does not escape the ‘black hole’ type object)

  3. Hume is one of my favorites.

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