Pathways to truth: Experience, Reasoning, Research

Inductive Reasoning

Propounded by Francis Bacon, this emphasized a more objective approach when trying to determine the relationship between phenomena:

  • Collect a lot of data about the phenomena without bothering about either their significance or orientation (which way the data points)
  • Look for the emergence of inherent relationships pertaining to the general case
  • Develop hypotheses about the phenomena based on the above

The assumption is that if enough data are collected, a keen observer will be able to objectively spot patterns/ relationships that emerge from the data.

Unfortunately, the process of data collection is unlikely to be entirely objective. We know this from numerous documented instances of bias in measurement.

In addition, there is every possibility that one may misinterpret data since there could be more than one plausible explanation for the observed pattern. For instance, the miasma theory postulated that foul air was responsible for diseases like cholera. This was based on the observation that cholera frequently occurred where there was decaying (and stinking) animal and plant matter. Therefore, great emphasis was laid on ventilation and dispersal of foul air. Despite John Snow producing irrefutable evidence suggesting contaminated water as the reason for the cholera epidemic in 1854, the parliamentary committee of enquiry dismissed his hypothesis that water was to blame (“we see no reason to adopt this belief”). Instead, they emphatically maintained that “the choleraic infection multiplies rather in air than in water”. It was Snow’s good fortune that subsequent events lead to the reluctant acceptance of his hypothesis.

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