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Hume's Problem: Induction and the Justification of Belief Hardcover – January 25, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0198250371 ISBN-10: 0198250371

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (January 25, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198250371
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198250371
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,750,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author


Colin Howson is Professor of Philosophy at the London School of Economics.

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 9, 2010
Format: Paperback
The intended audience for this interesting book is clearly philosophers interested primarily in epistemology and with some background in the foundations of mathematics. It would also be relatively transparent to mathematicians and statisticians interested in the foundations of probability theory. Nonetheless, Howson addresses some issues of general interest and a good deal of the book is devoted to logical arguments that can be followed without a strong math background.

The first half of the book is a careful discussion of Hume's attack on the absolute reliability of induction. Howson provides a careful discussion of this critique, including modern versions such as Goodman's famous Grue paradox. Howson then deals with a variety of attempts to refute Hume and finds them unsuccessful. Among these attempts are Popper's assertion of a deductive version of falsification of hypotheses. In an interesting analysis, Howson points out that Popper's approach is paralleled by the great RA Fisher's treatment of statistical hypothesis testing. For much of the discussion, Howson uses a Bayesian framework and has a useful and generally understandable discussion of probability theory. Howson's defense of Hume is convincing and the difficulties with induction are simply something we have to live with.

In the second half of the book, Howson attempts to reduce some of the sting of Hume's critique by establishing a limited but solid reliability for induction in an explicitly Bayesian framework. His basic argument is that induction in a Bayesian model is reliable, that such reliability can be derived from basic axioms of probability, and given reasonable assumptions, such as likely prior probabilities, that induction yields real knowledge.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. Jankowski on July 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Howson's area of specialization is in probability, so it will come as no surprise that the best he is able to offer in trying to resolve Hume's devastation of induction is an appeal to probability. He concludes as follows:

"We have solved Hume's Problem in about the only way it could be solved, by divorcing the justification for inductive reasoning from a justification of its consequences."

That's a brutal admission that I would think would have very little appeal. In other words, he hasn't solved anything, he's just dismissed the problem. That's not going to appeal to many that don't already adopt his worldview (one of which precludes other possible solutions). Consider the following:

"The religious explanation quite properly no longer commands wide assent, and Darwinism supplies the explanatory deficit with the only account which it is scientifically respectable to accept."

That may be Howson's experience, but he'll have to do much better than two very broad allusions to the work of Swinburne and Putnam to give the impression he's done due diligence in understanding the 'religious explanation' (whatever he means by that as we're never quite told precisely).

He critiques Kant's transcendental argument for arbitrariness (and rightly so), but fails to apply the same measure to his own preferred manner of predication.
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