Laith Al-Shawaf: Enumerative Induction as a Subset of Inference to the Best Explanation


Enumerative Induction as a Subset of Inference to the Best Explanation

Laith Al-Shawaf

In his paper The Inference to the Best Explanation, Gilbert Harman explains his position on enumerative induction. He first argues that inferences that seem to be instances of enumerative induction are actually better explained as inferences to the best explanation (IBE). He claims that the former are actually “uninteresting special case[s] of the more general inference to the best explanation” (Harman, 1965). Indeed, according to Harman, all cases of enumerative induction can be explained using IBE, making the former redundant as a separate form of inference. By contrast, the use of IBE need never be accompanied by enumerative induction, i.e. there are no situations that can be explained by the latter but not by the former. Enumerative induction is the process whereby a conclusion about, say, type A, is drawn based on several examined cases of type A. An often-cited example is as follows: if we observe one white swan, and then observe another white swan, and then another, up to a very large number of observations of white swans (with no exceptions), then we are likely to conclude that all swans are white. We have thus extrapolated from observed instances to a general conclusion that applies to other cases that are as of yet unobserved. Harman’s second main argument in favor of his view is that in selecting a hypothesis to explain certain evidence, we often make use of certain lemmas. The use of these lemmas, according to Harman, is obscured if the process of hypothesis selection is described as one of enumerative induction, whereas the use of IBE appropriately highlights them as crucial steps in arriving at an explanation.

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