A Deductive Answer to Goodman’s Riddle Essay

A Deductive Answer to Goodman’s Riddle

            The scientific method has an inductive structure. One begins with a problem. Afterwards, one formulates a hypothesis. That hypothesis is tested via observation, or experimentation.  Once the hypothesis is either validated or falsified, one has scientific fact. Out of a systematic collection of these scientific facts do we derive scientific laws. From the very specifics of accumulated facts do we generate our generalizations. However, this writer is going to argue that despite the inductive structure of the scientific method, the nature of modern science itself is deductive, and that the answer to Goodman’s riddle[1] is that scientific knowledge is valid due to its deductive nature.

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            We must first acknowledge the dilemma of induction. As philosopher David Hume observed,  the problem of induction is that there is no necessary connections between two facts. Hume resolves this particular problem by stating that, out of habit, man’s mind will apply frequently occurring relations between two events to other facts that he encounters. (Goodman, 1973 ) What this implies is that while the attempts of the human mind to create these relationships are inductive, the systematization, application and falsification of these relationships through science is deductive in nature.

The human mind prefers to proceed from axioms. One need only witness how mathematical disciplines like geometry are conducted. Even from within the structure of the scientific method, the hypothesis often proceeds from previously established generalizations. A cursory glance of scientific history will reveal that even science itself proceeds from a general principle; namely, that the universe is rationally ordered and can be known by rational creatures. (Jaki, 1978)

Where induction is instrumental in the formation of what Thomas Kuhn calls “paradigms”, the facts and observations that form a paradigm are gathered together in opposition or support of a general principle itself. When the gathered and proven observations contradict the greater paradigm, then a “paradigm shift”, or scientific revolution, occurs. (Kuhn, 1970) This contrasting of observations is called falsification. It follows from the principle of “modus tollens”, wherein if x is true, then y is true, but if y is false then x is false. Falsification is an essential element in the determination of scientific truth. (Popper, 1959) In comparison of Popper’s and Kuhn’s work, one gets the notion that scientific knowledge is gained through a constant process of formulating and then proving or disproving scientific generalizations or theories. If a theory works, then it remains, and if not, it is subject to a shift. As per Goodman, “rules and particular inferences alike are justified by being brought into agreement with each other.” (Goodman, 1973 )

Let us take the example of Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry. At first glance, his method of discovering oxygen reveals inductive thinking, wherein his burning of different substances led him to theorize about the existence of oxygen. However, a look at the wider picture reveals Lavoisier to be working against a particular general theory, which was the Phlogiston Theory. Lavoisier wanted a unifying theory, so when Phlogiston Theory was proven false by his quantitative experiments, he formulated a new paradigm wherein oxygen was the essential constituent of all acids. (Poirier, 1996)

In conclusion, the answer of this paper to Goodman’s riddle is that one does not need a way (theory?) to make inductive arguments valid. The necessary relationships between matters of fact in science are validated through general principles and theories, which are in turn validated by the truth of each individual fact.

Works Cited
Goodman, N. (1973 ). The New Riddle of Induction. In N. Goodman, Fact, Fiction and Forecast 3rd ed. (p. 59). Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Jaki, S. (1978). The Origin of Science and the Science of its Origins. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.

Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Poirier, J. (1996). Lavoisier. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Popper, K. (1959). The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York: Basic Books.

[1] If we do not have a way to make inductive arguments valid, and if scientific practice relies on induction all the time, how can anything science says be valid?