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inductive argument

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

An inductive argument is the use of collected instances of evidence of something specific to support a general conclusion. Inductive reasoning is used to show the likelihood that an argument will prove true in the future.

In an inductive argument, the evident truth of a statement is verified by examples that have proven to be true or that turn out to be true. In the case of inductive reasoning, a statement may seem to be true until an exception is found. A person might inductively reason, for example, that all people have 10 toes till they see an exception.

Often inductive reasoning is based on circumstantial evidence of a more-or-less limited sampling size. Because of this limitation, an argument supported by inductive reasoning can be disproven by a single negative sample.

Inductive reasoning is very susceptible to failures because of cognitive bias, where the investigator sees what they expect to support their argument. While inductive arguments can be convincing and show that an argument seems likely to be true they can never be considered a complete proof, unlike deductive arguments which, when founded on true premises and a valid argument, are assumed to be true (until disproven).

Where inductive reasoning takes evidence from the past or present to support a conclusion of a future prediction, deductive reasoning takes existing premises to infer an existing or past condition.

See also: critical thinking

This was last updated in February 2017

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