Popular Science Monthly/Volume 12/April 1878/Illustrations of the Logic of Science IV

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ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE LOGIC OF SCIENCE.
By C. S. PEIRCE,
ASSISTANT IN THE UNITED STATES COAST SURVEY.

FOURTH PAPER.—THE PROBABILITY OF INDUCTION.

I.

WE have found that every argument derives its force from the general truth of the class of inferences to which it belongs; and that probability is the proportion of arguments carrying truth with them among those of any genus. This is most conveniently expressed in the nomenclature of the mediæval logicians. They called the fact expressed by a premise an antecedent, and that which follows from it its consequent; while the leading principle, that every (or almost every) such antecedent is followed by such a consequent, they termed the consequence. Using this language, we may say that probability belongs exclusively to consequences, and the probability of any consequence is the number of times in which antecedent and consequent both occur divided by the number of all the times in which the antecedent occurs. From this definition are deduced the following rules for the addition and multiplication of probabilities:

Rule for the Addition of Probabilities.—Given the separate probabilities of two consequences having the same antecedent and incompatible consequents. Then the sum of these two numbers is the probability of the consequence, that from the same antecedent one or other of those consequents follows.

Rule for the Multiplication of Probabilities.—Given the separate probabilities of the two consequences, "If A then B," and "If both A and B, then C." Then the product of these two numbers is the probability of the consequence, "If A, then both B and C."

Special Rule for the Multiplication of Independent Probabilities.—Given the separate probabilities of two consequences having the same antecedents, "If A, then B," and "If A, then C." Suppose that these consequences are such that the probability of the second is equal to the probability of the consequence, "If both A and B, then C." Then the product of the two given numbers is equal to the probability of the consequence, "If A, then both B and C."

To show the working of these rules we may examine the probabilities in regard to throwing dice. What is the probability of throwing a six with one die? The antecedent here is the event of throwing a die; the consequent, its turning up a six. As the die has six sides, all of which are turned up with equal frequency, the probability of turning up any one is 16. Suppose two dice are thrown, what is the probability of throwing sixes? The probability of either coming up six is obviously the same when both are thrown as when one is thrown—namely, 16. The probability that either will come up six when the other does is also the same as that of its coming up six whether the other does or not. The probabilities are, therefore, independent; and, by our rule, the probability that both events will happen together is the product of their several probabilities, 16 X 16. What is the probability of throwing deuce-ace? The probability that the first die will turn up ace and the second deuce is the same as the probability that both will turn up sixes—namely, 136; the probability that the second will turn up ace and the first deuce is likewise 136; these two events—first, ace; second, deuce; and, second, ace; first, deuce—are incompatible. Hence the rule for addition holds, and the probability that either will come up ace and the other deuce is 136 +136, or 118.

In this way all problems about dice, etc., may be solved. When the number of dice thrown is supposed very large, mathematics (which may be defined as the art of making groups to facilitate numeration) comes to our aid with certain devices to reduce the difficulties.

 
II.

The conception of probability as a matter of fact, i. e., as the proportion of times in which an occurrence of one kind is accompanied by an occurrence of another kind, is termed by Mr. Venn the materialistic view of the subject. But probability has often been regarded as being simply the degree of belief which ought to attach to a proposition; and this mode of explaining the idea is termed by Venn the conceptualistic view. Most writers have mixed the two conceptions together. They, first, define the probability of an event as the reason we have to believe that it has taken place, which is conceptualistic; but shortly after they state that it is the ratio of the number of cases favorable to the event to the total number of cases favorable or contrary, and all equally possible. Except that this introduces the thoroughly unclear idea of cases equally possible in place of cases equally frequent, this is a tolerable statement of the materialistic view. The pure conceptualistic theory has been best expounded by Mr. De Morgan in his "Formal Logic: or, the Calculus of Inference, Necessary and Probable."

The great difference between the two analyses is, that the conceptualists refer probability to an event, while the materialists make it the ratio of frequency of events of a species to those of a genus over that species, thus giving it two terms instead of one. The opposition may be made to appear as follows:

Suppose that we have two rules of inference, such that, of all the questions to the solution of which both can be applied, the first yields correct answers to 81100, and incorrect answers to the remaining 19100; while the second yields correct answers to 93100, and incorrect answers to the remaining 7100. Suppose, further, that the two rules are entirely independent as to their truth, so that the second answers correctly 93100 of the questions which the first answers correctly, and also 93100 of the questions which the first answers incorrectly, and answers incorrectly the remaining 7100 of the questions which the first answers correctly, and also the remaining 7100 of the questions which the first answers incorrectly. Then, of all the questions to the solution of which both rules can be applied—

both answer correctly 93 of 81 or 93 X 81 ;
100 100 100 X 100
the second answers correctly and the first incorrectly 93 of 19 or 93 X 19 ;
100 100 100 X 100
the second answers incorrectly and the first correctly 7 of 81 or 7 X 81 ;
100 100 100 X 100
and both answer correctly 7 of 19 or 7 X 19 ;
100 100 100 X 100


Suppose, now, that, in reference to any question, both give the same answer. Then (the questions being always such as are to be answered by yes or no), those in reference to which their answers agree are the same as those which both answer correctly together with those which both answer falsely, or

93 X 81 + 7 X 19
100 X 100 100 X 100

of all. The proportion of those which both answer correctly out of those their answers to which agree is, therefore—

93 X 81 or
100 X 100 93 X 81
93 X 81 + 7 X 19 (93 X 81) + (7 X 19)
100 X 100 100 X 100
 

This is, therefore, the probability that, if both modes of inference yield the same result, that result is correct. We may here conveniently make use of another mode of expression. Probability is the ratio of the favorable cases to all the cases. Instead of expressing our result in terms of this ratio, we may make use of another—the ratio of favorable to unfavorable cases. This last ratio may be called the chance of an event. Then the chance of a true answer by the first mode of inference is 8119 and by the second is 937 and the chance of a correct answer from both, when they agree, is—

89 X 93 or 81 X 93
19 X 7 19 7,

or the product of the chances of each singly yielding a true answer.

It will be seen that a chance is a quantity which may have any magnitude, however great. An event in whose favor there is an even chance, or 11, has a probability of 12. An argument having an even chance can do nothing toward reënforcing others, since according to the rule its combination with another would only multiply the chance of the latter by 1.

Probability and chance undoubtedly belong primarily to consequences, and are relative to premises; but we may, nevertheless, speak of the chance of an event absolutely, meaning by that the chance of the combination of all arguments in reference to it which exist for us in the given state of our knowledge. Taken in this sense it is incontestable that the chance of an event has an intimate connection with the degree of our belief in it. Belief is certainly something more than a mere feeling; yet there is a feeling of believing, and this feeling does and ought to vary with the chance of the thing believed, as deduced from all the arguments. Any quantity which varies with the chance might, therefore, it would seem, serve as a thermometer for the proper intensity of belief. Among all such quantities there is one which is peculiarly appropriate. When there is a very great chance, the feeling of belief ought to be very intense. Absolute certainty, or an infinite chance, can never be attained by mortals, and this may be represented appropriately by an infinite belief. As the chance diminishes the feeling of believing should diminish, until an even chance is reached, where it should completely vanish and not incline either toward or away from the proposition. When the chance becomes less, then a contrary belief should spring up and should increase in intensity as the chance diminishes, and as the chance almost vanishes (which it can never quite do) the contrary belief should tend toward an infinite intensity. Now, there is one quantity which, more simply than any other, fulfills these conditions; it is the logarithm of the chance. But there is another consideration which must, if admitted, fix us to this choice for our thermometer. It is that our belief ought to be proportional to the weight of evidence, in this sense, that two arguments which are entirely independent, neither weakening nor strengthening each other, ought, when they concur, to produce a belief equal to the sum of the intensities of belief which either would produce separately. Now, we have seen that the chances of independent concurrent arguments are to be multiplied together to get the chance of their combination, and therefore the quantities which best express the intensities of belief should be such that they are to be added when the chances are multiplied in order to produce the quantity which corresponds to the combined chance. Now, the logarithm is the only quantity which fulfills this condition. There is a general law of sensibility, called Fechner's psychophysical law. It is that the intensity of any sensation is proportional to the logarithm of the external force which produces it. It is entirely in harmony with this law that the feeling of belief should be as the logarithm of the chance, this latter being the expression of the state of facts which produces the belief.

The rule for the combination of independent concurrent arguments takes a very simple form when expressed in terms of the intensity of belief, measured in the proposed way. It is this: Take the sum of all the feelings of belief which would be produced separately by all the arguments pro, subtract from that the similar sum for arguments con, and the remainder is the feeling of belief which we ought to have on the whole. This is a proceeding which men often resort to, under the name of balancing reasons.

These considerations constitute an argument in favor of the conceptualistic view. The kernel of it is that the conjoint probability of all the arguments in our possession, with reference to any fact, must be intimately connected with the just degree of our belief in that fact; and this point is supplemented by various others showing the consistency of the theory with itself and with the rest of our knowledge.

But probability, to have any value at all, must express a fact. It is, therefore, a thing to be inferred upon evidence. Let us, then, consider for a moment the formation of a belief of probability. Suppose we have a large bag of beans from which one has been secretly taken at random and hidden under a thimble. We are now to form a probable judgment of the color of that bean, by drawing others singly from the bag and looking at them, each one to be thrown back, and the whole well mixed up after each drawing. Suppose the first drawing is white and the next black. We conclude that there is not an immense preponderance of either color, and that there is something like an even chance that the bean under the thimble is black. But this judgment may be altered by the next few drawings. When we have drawn ten times, if 4, 5, or 6, are white, we have more confidence that the chance is even. When we have drawn a thousand times, if about half have been white, we have great confidence in this result. We now feel pretty sure that, if we were to make a large number of bets upon the color of single beans drawn from the bag, we could approximately insure ourselves in the long run by betting each time upon the white, a confidence which would be entirely wanting if, instead of sampling the bag by 1,000 drawings, we had done so by only two. Now, as the whole utility of probability is to insure us in the long run, and as that assurance depends, not merely on the value of the chance, but also on the accuracy of the evaluation, it follows that we ought not to have the same feeling of belief in reference to all events of which the chance is even. In short, to express the proper state of our belief, not one number but two are requisite, the first depending on the inferred probability, the second on the amount of knowledge on which that probability is based.[1] It is true that when our knowledge is very precise, when we have made many drawings from the bag, or, as in most of the examples in the books, when the total contents of the bag are absolutely known, the number which expresses the uncertainty of the assumed probability and its liability to be changed by further experience may become insignificant, or utterly vanish. But, when our knowledge is very slight, this number may be even more important than the probability itself; and when we have no knowledge at all this completely overwhelms the other, so that there is no sense in saying that the chance of the totally unknown event is even (for what expresses absolutely no fact has absolutely no meaning), and what ought to be said is that the chance is entirely indefinite. We thus perceive that the conceptualistic view, though answering well enough in some cases, is quite inadequate.

Suppose that the first bean which we drew from our bag were black. That would constitute an argument, no matter how slender, that the bean under the thimble was also black. If the second bean were also to turn out black, that would be a second independent argument reenforcing the first. If the whole of the first twenty beans drawn should prove black, our confidence that the hidden bean was black would justly attain considerable strength. But suppose the twenty-first bean were to be white and that we were to go on drawing until we found that we had drawn 1,010 black beans and 990 white ones. We should conclude that our first twenty beans being black was simply an extraordinary accident, and that in fact the proportion of white beans to black was sensibly equal, and that it was an even chance that the hidden bean was black. Yet according to the rule of balancing reasons, since all the drawings of black beans are so many independent arguments in favor of the one under the thimble being black, and all the white drawings so many against it, an excess of twenty black beans ought to produce the same degree of belief that the hidden bean was black, whatever the total number drawn.

In the conceptualistic view of probability, complete ignorance, where the judgment ought not to swerve either toward or away from the hypothesis, is represented by the probability 12.[2]

But let us suppose that we are totally ignorant what colored hair the inhabitants of Saturn have. Let us, then, take a color-chart in which all possible colors are shown shading into one another by imperceptible degrees. In such a chart the relative areas occupied by different classes of colors are perfectly arbitrary. Let us inclose such an area with a closed line, and ask what is the chance on conceptualistic principles that the color of the hair of the inhabitants of Saturn falls within that area? The answer cannot be indeterminate because we must be in some state of belief; and, indeed, conceptualistic writers do not admit indeterminate probabilities. As there is no certainty in the matter, the answer lies between zero and unity. As no numerical value is afforded by the data, the number must be determined by the nature of the scale of probability itself, and not by calculation from the data. The answer can, therefore, only be one-half, since the judgment should neither favor nor oppose the hypothesis. What is true of this area is true of any other one; and it will equally be true of a third area which embraces the other two. But the probability for each of the smaller areas being one-half, that for the larger should be at least unity, which is absurd.

 
III.

All our reasonings are of two kinds: 1. Explicative, analytic, or deductive; 2. Amplifiative, synthetic, or (loosely speaking) inductive. In explicative reasoning, certain facts are first laid down in the premises. These facts are, in every case, an inexhaustible multitude, but they may often be summed up in one simple proposition by means of some regularity which runs through them all. Thus, take the proposition that Socrates was a man; this implies (to go no further) that during every fraction of a second of his whole life (or, if you please, during the greater part of them) he was a man. He did not at one instant appear as a tree and at another as a dog; he did not flow into water, or appear in two places at once; you could not put your finger through him as if he were an optical image, etc. Now, the facts being thus laid down, some order among some of them, not particularly made use of for the purpose of stating them, may perhaps be discovered; and this will enable us to throw part or all of them into a new statement, the possibility of which might have escaped attention. Such a statement will be the conclusion of an analytic inference. Of this sort are all mathematical demonstrations. But synthetic reasoning is of another kind. In this case the facts summed up in the conclusion are not among those stated in the premises. They are different facts, as when one sees that the tide rises m times and concludes that it will rise the next time. These are the only inferences which increase our real knowledge, however useful the others may be.

In any problem in probabilities, we have given the relative frequency of certain events, and we perceive that in these facts the relative frequency of another event is given in a hidden way. This being stated makes the solution. This is therefore mere explicative reasoning, and is evidently entirely inadequate to the representation of synthetic reasoning, which goes out beyond the facts given in the premises. There is, therefore, a manifest impossibility in so tracing out any probability for a synthetic conclusion.

Most treatises on probability contain a very different doctrine. They state, for example, that if one of the ancient denizens of the shores of the Mediterranean, who had never heard of tides, had gone to the bay of Biscay, and had there seen the tide rise, say m times, he could know that there was a probability equal to

m + 1
m + 2

that it would rise the next time. In a well-known work by Quetelet, much stress is laid on this, and it is made the foundation of a theory of inductive reasoning.

But this solution betrays its origin if we apply it to the case in which the man has never seen the tide rise at all; that is, if we put m = 0. In this case, the probability that it will rise the next time comes out 12, or, in other words, the solution involves the conceptualistic principle that there is an even chance of a totally unknown event. The manner in which it has been reached has been by considering a number of urns all containing the same number of balls, part white and part black. One urn contains all white balls, another one black and the rest white, a third two black and the rest white, and so on, one urn for each proportion, until an urn is reached containing only black balls. But the only possible reason for drawing any analogy between such an arrangement and that of Nature is the principle that alternatives of which we know nothing must be considered as equally probable. But this principle, is absurd. There is an indefinite variety of ways of enumerating the different possibilities, which, on the application of this principle, would give different results. If there be any way of enumerating the possibilities so as to make them all equal, it is not that from which this solution is derived, but is the following: Suppose we had an immense granary filled with black and white balls well mixed up; and suppose each urn were filled by taking a fixed number of balls from this granary quite at random. The relative number of white balls in the granary might be anything, say one in three. Then in one-third of the urns the first ball would be white, and in two-thirds black. In one-third of those urns of which the first ball was white, and also in one-third of those in which the first ball was black, the second ball would be white. In this way, we should have a distribution like that shown in the following table, where w stands for a white ball and b for a black one. The reader can, if he chooses, verify the table for himself.

wwww.
 
wwwb. wwbw. wbww. bwww.
wwwb. wwbw. wbww. bwww.
 
wwbb. wbwb. bwwb. wbbw. bwbw. bbww.
wwbb. wbwb. bwwb. wbbw. bwbw. bbww.
wwbb. wbwb. bwwb. wbbw. bwbw. bbww.
wwbb. wbwb. bwwb. wbbw. bwbw. bbww.
 
wbbb. bwbb. bbwb. bbbw.
wbbb. bwbb. bbwb. bbbw.
wbbb. bwbb. bbwb. bbbw.
wbbb. bwbb. bbwb. bbbw.
wbbb. bwbb. bbwb. bbbw.
wbbb. bwbb. bbwb. bbbw.
wbbb. bwbb. bbwb. bbbw.
wbbb. bwbb. bbwb. bbbw.
 

bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 
bbbb. 


In the second group, where there is one b, there are two sets just alike; in the third there are 4, in the fourth 8, and in the fifth 16, doubling every time. This is because we have supposed twice as many black balls in the granary as white ones; had we supposed 10 times as many, instead of

1, 2, 4, 8, 16

sets we should have had

1, 10, 100, 1000, 10000

sets; on the other hand, had the numbers of black and white balls in the granary been even, there would have been but one set in each group. Now suppose two balls were drawn from one of these urns and were found to be both white, what would be the probability of the next one being white? If the two drawn out were the first two put into the urns, and the next to be drawn out were the third put in, then the probability of this third being white would be the same whatever the colors of the first two, for it has been supposed that just the same proportion of urns has the third ball white among those which have the first two white-white, white-black, black-white, and black-black. Thus, in this case, the chance of the third ball being white would be the same whatever the first two were. But, by inspecting the table, the reader can see that in each group all orders of the balls occur with equal frequency, so that it makes no difference whether they are drawn out in the order they were put in or not. Hence the colors of the balls already drawn have no influence on the probability of any other being white or black.

Now, if there be any way of enumerating the possibilities of Nature so as to make them equally probable, it is clearly one which should make one arrangement or combination of the elements of Nature as probable as another, that is, a distribution like that we have supposed, and it, therefore, appears that the assumption that any such thing can be done, leads simply to the conclusion that reasoning from past to future experience is absolutely worthless. In fact, the moment that you assume that the chances in favor of that of which we are totally ignorant are even, the problem about the tides does not differ, in any arithmetical particular, from the case in which a penny (known to be equally likely to come up heads and tails) should turn up heads m times successively. In short, it would be to assume that Nature is a pure chaos, or chance combination of independent elements, in which reasoning from one fact to another would be impossible; and since, as we shall hereafter see, there is no judgment of pure observation without reasoning, it would be to suppose all human cognition illusory and no real knowledge possible. It would be to suppose that if we have found the order of Nature more or less regular in the past, this has been by a pure run of luck which we may expect is now at an end. Now, it may be we have no scintilla of proof to the contrary, but reason is unnecessary in reference to that belief which is of all the most settled, which nobody doubts or can doubt, and which he who should deny would stultify himself in so doing.

The relative probability of this or that arrangement of Nature is something which we should have a right to talk about if universes were as plenty as blackberries, if we could put a quantity of them in a bag, shake them well up, draw out a sample, and examine them to see what proportion of them had one arrangement and what proportion another. But, even in that case, a higher universe would contain us, in regard to whose arrangements the conception of probability could have no applicability.

 
IV.

We have examined the problem proposed by the conceptualists, which, translated into clear language, is this: Given a synthetic conclusion; required to know out of all possible states of things how many will accord, to any assigned extent, with this conclusion; and we have found that it is only an absurd attempt to reduce synthetic to analytic reason, and that no definite solution is possible.

But there is another problem in connection with this subject. It is this: Given a certain state of things, required to know what proportion of all synthetic inferences relating to it will be true within a given degree of approximation. Now, there is no difficulty about this problem (except for its mathematical complication); it has been much studied, and the answer is perfectly well known. And is not this, after all, what we want to know much rather than the other? Why should we want to know the probability that the fact will accord with our conclusion? That implies that we are interested in all possible worlds, and not merely the one in which we find ourselves placed. Why is it not much more to the purpose to know the probability that our conclusion will accord with the fact? One of these questions is the first above stated and the other the second, and I ask the reader whether, if people, instead of using the word probability without any clear apprehension of their own meaning, had always spoken of relative frequency, they could have failed to see that what they wanted was not to follow along the synthetic procedure with an analytic one, in order to find the probability of the conclusion; but, on the contrary, to begin with the fact at which the synthetic inference aims, and follow back to the facts it uses for premises in order to see the probability of their being such as will yield the truth.

Aa we cannot have an urn with an infinite number of balls to represent the inexhaustibleness of Nature, let us suppose one with a finite number, each ball being thrown back into the urn after being drawn out, so that there is no exhaustion of them. Suppose one ball out of three is white and the rest black, and that four balls are drawn. Then the table on page 713 represents the relative frequency of the different ways in which these balls might be drawn. It will be seen that if we should judge by these four balls of the proportion in the urn, 32 times out of 81 we should find it 14, and 24 times out of 81 we should find it 12, the truth being 13. To extend this table to high numbers would be great labor, but the mathematicians have found some ingenious ways of reckoning what the numbers would be. It is found that, if the true proportion of white balls is p, and s balls are drawn, then the error of the proportion obtained by the induction will be—

half the time within 0.477 \sqrt{\tfrac{2p(1-p)}{s}}
9 times out of 10 within 1.163 \sqrt{\tfrac{2p(1-p)}{s}}
99 times out of 100 within 1.821 \sqrt{\tfrac{2p(1-p)}{s}}
999 times out of 1,000 within 2.328 \sqrt{\tfrac{2p(1-p)}{s}}
9,999 times out of 10,000 within 2.751 \sqrt{\tfrac{2p(1-p)}{s}}
9,999,999,999 times out of 10,000,000,000 within 4.77 \sqrt{\tfrac{2p(1-p)}{s}}

The use of this may be illustrated by an example. By the census of 1870, it appears that the proportion of males among native white children under one year old was 0.5082, while among colored children of the same age the proportion was only 0.4977. The difference between these is 0.0105, or about one in a 100. Can this be attributed to chance, or would the difference always exist among a great number of white and colored children under like circumstances? Here p may be taken at12; hence 2p (1-p) is also 12. The number of white children counted was near 1,000,000; hence the fraction whose square-root is to be taken is about 12000000. The root is about 11400, and this multiplied by 0.477 gives about 0.0003 as the probable error in the ratio of males among the whites as obtained from the induction. The number of black children was about 150,000, which gives 0.0008 for the probable error. We see that the actual discrepancy is ten times the sum of these, and such a result would happen, according to our table, only once out of 10,000,000,000 censuses, in the long run.

It may be remarked that when the real value of the probability sought inductively is either very large or very small, the reasoning is more secure. Thus, suppose there were in reality one white ball in 100 in a certain urn, and we were to judge of the number by 100 drawings. The probability of drawing no white ball would be 3661000; that of drawing one white ball would be 3701000; that of drawing two would be 1851000; that of drawing three would be 611000; that of drawing four would be 151000; that of drawing five would be only 31000 etc. Thus we should be tolerably certain of not being in error by more than one ball in 100.

It appears, then, that in one sense we can, and in another we cannot, determine the probability of synthetic inference. When I reason in this way:

Ninety-nine Cretans in a hundred are liars;

But Epimenides is a Cretan;

Therefore, Epimenides is a liar:—

I know that reasoning similar to that would carry truth 99 times in 100. But when I reason in the opposite direction:

Minos, Sarpedon, Rhadamanthus, Deucalion, and Epimenides, are all the Cretans I can think of;

But these were all atrocious liars,

Therefore, pretty much all Cretans must have been liars;

I do not in the least know how often such reasoning would carry me right. On the other hand, what I do know is that some definite proportion of Cretans must have been liars, and that this proportion can be probably approximated to by an induction from five or six instances. Even in the worst case for the probability of such an inference, that in which about half the Cretans are liars, the ratio so obtained would probably not be in error by more than 16. So much I know; but, then, in the present case the inference is that pretty much all Cretans are liars, and whether there may not be a special improbability in that I do not know.

 
V.

Late in the last century, Immanuel Kant asked the question, "How are synthetical judgments a priori possible?" By synthetical judgments he meant such as assert positive fact and are not mere affairs of arrangement; in short, judgments of the kind which synthetical reasoning produces, and which analytic reasoning cannot yield. By a priori judgments he meant such as that all outward objects are in space, every event has a cause, etc., propositions which according to him can never be inferred from experience. Not so much by his answer to this question as by the mere asking of it, the current philosophy of that time was shattered and destroyed, and a new epoch in its history was begun. But before asking that question he ought to have asked the more general one, "How are any synthetical judgments at all possible?" How is it that a man can observe one fact and straightway pronounce judgment concerning another different fact not involved in the first? Such reasoning, as we have seen, has, at least in the usual sense of the phrase, no definite probability; how, then, can it add to our knowledge? Tins is a strange paradox; the Abbé Gratry says it is a miracle, and that every true induction is an immediate inspiration from on high.[3] I respect this explanation far more than many a pedantic attempt to solve the question by some juggle with probabilities, with the forms of syllogism, or what not. I respect it because it shows an appreciation of the depth of the problem, because it assigns an adequate cause, and because it is intimately connected—as the true account should be—with a general philosophy of the universe. At the same time, I do not accept this explanation, because an explanation should tell how a thing is done, and to assert a perpetual miracle seems to be an abandonment of all hope of doing that, without sufficient justification.

It will be interesting to see how the answer which Kant gave to his question about synthetical judgments a priori will appear if extended to the question of synthetical judgments in general. That answer is, that synthetical judgments a priori are possible because whatever is universally true is involved in the conditions of experience. Let us apply this to a general synthetical reasoning. I take from a bag a handful of beans; they are all purple, and I infer that all the beans in the bag are purple. How can I do that? Why, upon the principle that whatever is universally true of my experience (which is here the appearance of these different beans) is involved in the condition of experience. The condition of this special experience is that all these beans were taken from that bag. According to Kant's principle, then, whatever is found true of all the beans drawn from the bag must find its explanation in some peculiarity of the contents of the bag. This is a satisfactory statement of the principle of induction.

When we draw a deductive or analytic conclusion, our rule of inference is that facts of a certain general character are either invariably or in a certain proportion of cases accompanied by facts of another general character. Then our premise being a fact of the former class, we infer with certainty or with the appropriate degree of probability the existence of a fact of the second class. But the rule for synthetic inference is of a different kind. When we sample a bag of beans we do not in the least assume that the fact of some beans being purple involves the necessity or even the probability of other beans being so. On the contrary, the conceptualistic method of treating probabilities, which really amounts simply to the deductive treatment of them, when rightly carried out leads to the result that a synthetic inference has just an even chance in its favor, or in other words is absolutely worthless. The color of one bean is entirely independent of that of another. But synthetic inference is founded upon a classification of facts, not according to their characters, but according to the manner of obtaining them. Its rule is, that a number of facts obtained in a given way will in general more or less resemble other facts obtained in the same way; or, experiences whose conditions are the same will have the same general characters.

In the former case, we know that premises precisely similar in form to those of the given ones will yield true conclusions, just once in a calculable number of times. In the latter case, we only know that premises obtained under circumstances similar to the given ones (though perhaps themselves very different) will yield true conclusions, at least once in a calculable number of times. We may express this by saying that in the case of analytic inference we know the probability of our conclusion (if the premises are true), but in the case of synthetic inferences we only know the degree of trustworthiness of our proceeding. As all knowledge comes from synthetic inference, we must equally infer that all human certainty consists merely in our knowing that the processes by which our knowledge has been derived are such as must generally have led to true conclusions.

Though a synthetic inference cannot by any means be reduced to deduction, yet that the rule of induction will hold good in the long run may be deduced from the principle that reality is only the object of the final opinion to which sufficient investigation would lead. That belief gradually tends to fix itself under the influence of inquiry is, indeed, one of the facts with which logic sets out.

  1. Strictly we should need an infinite series of numbers each depending on the probable error of the last.
  2. "Perfect indecision, belief inclining neither way, an even chance."—De Morgan, p. 182.
  3. Logique. The same is true, according to him, of every performance of a differentiation, but not of integration. He does not tell us whether it is the supernatural assistance which makes the former process so much the easier.