Inductive Fallacies

Inductive reasoning consists of inferring from the properties of a sample to the properties of a population as a whole.

For example, suppose we have a barrel containing of 1,000 beans. Some of the beans are black and some of the beans are white. Suppose now we take a sample of 100 beans from the barrel and that 50 of them are white and 50 of them are black. Then we could infer inductively that half the beans in the barrel (that is, 500 of them) are black and half are white.

All inductive reasoning depends on the similarity of the sample and the population. The more similar the same is to the population as a whole, the more reliable will be the inductive inference. On the other hand, if the sample is relevantly dissimilar to the population, then the inductive inference will be unreliable.

No inductive inference is perfect. That means that any inductive inference can sometimes fail. Even though the premises are true, the conclusion might be false. Nonetheless, a good inductive inference gives us a reason to believe that the conclusion is probably true.

The following inductive fallacies are described in this section:

26 May 1995