Characteristics of Ravens

Here we have drawn an inductive inference from the characteristics of observed ravens to the characteristics of all ravens, most of which we have not observed. Of course, the premise of this argument could be true, yet the con- clusion turn out to be false. A raven that has not yet been observed might be albino. The obviousness of this possibility suggests that someone who gives this argument does not put it forth as valid, so it is not a deductive ar- gument. Instead, the premise is put forth as a reason or support for the con- clusion. When an argument is not claimed to be valid but is intended only to provide a reason for the conclusion, the argument is inductive.

Because inductive arguments are supposed to provide reasons, and rea- sons vary in strength, inductive arguments can be evaluated as strong or weak, depending on the strength of the reasons that they provide for their conclusions. If we have seen only ten ravens, and all of them were in our backyard, then the above argument gives at most a very weak reason to believe that all ravens are black. But, if we have traveled around the world and seen over half the ravens that exist, then the above argument gives a strong reason to believe that all ravens are black. Inductive arguments are usually intended to provide strong support for their conclusions, in which case they can be criticized if the support they provide is not strong enough for the purposes at hand.

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