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inductive reasoning

Contributor(s): Stan Gibilisco

Inductive reasoning is a logical process in which multiple premises, all believed true or found true most of the time, are combined to obtain a specific conclusion.

Inductive reasoning is often used in applications that involve prediction, forecasting, or behavior. Here is an example:

• Every tornado I have ever seen in the United States rotated counterclockwise, and I have seen dozens of them.
• We see a tornado in the distance, and we are in the United States.
• I conclude that the tornado we see right now must be rotating counterclockwise.

A meteorologist will tell you that in the United States (which lies in the northern hemisphere), most tornadoes rotate counterclockwise, but not all of them do. Therefore, the conclusion is probably true, but not necessarily true. Inductive reasoning is, unlike deductive reasoning, not logically rigorous. Imperfection can exist and inaccurate conclusions can occur, however rare; in deductive reasoning the conclusions are mathematically certain.

Inductive reasoning is sometimes confused with mathematical induction, an entirely different process. Mathematical induction is a form of deductive reasoning, in which logical certainties are "daisy chained" to derive a general conclusion about an infinite number of objects or situations.

This was last updated in May 2013

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