• In the history of ideas, few associations of author and subject are as strong as David Hume’s association with induction. It is he, we say, who discovered or at least formally articulated the great philosophical “problem of induction”—that it is impossible to draw an exceptionless universal claim from particular ones, no matter how many there are. No matter how many white swans we see, we cannot be sure the next swan will be white. But that statement of the problem is itself a universal claim, a…Read more
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    History of ‘temperature’: maturation of a measurement concept
    Annals of Science 77 (4): 399-444. 2020.
    Accounts of how the concept of temperature has evolved typically cast the story as ancillary to the history of the thermometer or the history of the concept of heat. But then, because the history of temperature is not treated as a subject in its own right, modern associations inadvertently get read back into the historical record. This essay attempts to lay down an authoritative record not of what people in the past thought about what we call ‘temperature’ but of what they thought about what the…Read more
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    On Methods, Volume 1: Books I-II
    with Jacopo Zabarella
    Harvard University Press. 2014.
    Jacopo Zabarella’s two treatises On Methods and On Regressus (1578) are among the most important Renaissance discussions of how scientific knowledge should be acquired, arranged, and transmitted. They belong to a lively debate about the order in which sciences should be taught and the method to be followed in scientific demonstration that roiled the Late Renaissance world for decades. In these famous works Zabarella rejected the views of Ramists and modern Galenists in favor of the pure doctrine…Read more
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    On Methods, Volume 2: Books III-IV. On Regressus
    with Jacopo Zabarella
    Harvard University Press. 2014.
    Jacopo Zabarella’s two treatises On Methods and On Regressus (1578) are among the most important Renaissance discussions of how scientific knowledge should be acquired, arranged, and transmitted. They belong to a lively debate about the order in which sciences should be taught and the method to be followed in scientific demonstration that roiled the Late Renaissance world for decades. In these famous works Zabarella rejected the views of Ramists and modern Galenists in favor of the pure doctrine…Read more
  •  14
    Steven Matthews, Theology and Science in Francis Bacon’s Thought (review)
    Technology and Culture 50 685-686. 2009.
    This work intentionally joins Stephen A. McKnight’s The Religious Foundations of Francis Bacon’s Thought in arguing that Sir Francis Bacon was more deeply religious than he is conventionally thought to have been. Though the book is full of interesting suggestions, a lack of breadth, rigor, and precision will leave many readers unconvinced. . . . Those who know the corpus and secondary literature enough to read critically will find here provocative suggestions and intriguing leads. Others will ne…Read more
  •  69
    A revisionist account of how philosophical induction was conceived in the ancient world and how that conception was transmitted, altered, and then rediscovered. I show how philosophers of late antiquity and then the medieval period came step-by-step to seriously misunderstand Aristotle’s view of induction and how that mistake was reversed by humanists in the Renaissance and then especially by Francis Bacon. I show, naturally enough then, that in early modern science, Baconians were Aristotelians…Read more
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    The philosophical background important to Mill’s theory of induction has two major components: Richard Whately’s introduction of the uniformity principle into inductive inference and the loss of the idea of formal cause.
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    In this well-structured monograph, Stephen A. McKnight seeks to correct the view that Francis Bacon’s use of religious motifs and tropes is “manipulative,” “cynical,” and “disingenuous,” a view McKnight considers the “prevailing” one. To accomplish his goal, McKnight subjects several of Bacon’s works to a close reading. He concludes that the “pervasiveness of religious motifs, scriptural references, and biblical doctrines” in Bacon’s writings “establish the central role religion plays in Bacon’s…Read more
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    The 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill is widely regarded as one of history’s leading proponents of inductive science and of political liberty. Yet, oddly, philosophers working in his train have been remarkably unsuccessful in saying exactly what is wrong with the scientific skepticism or the political tyrannies of the past one hundred and fifty years. Is it possible that Mr. Mill was not such a good guy after all? … I recommend the book to anyone interested in a scholarly treatment of …Read more
  •  39
    Louis Groarke, An Aristotelian Account of Induction: Creating Something From Nothing (review)
    Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2010 (4). 2010.
    Groarke is surely right that Aristotle believed the cognitive hierarchy he described in Posterior Analytics B 19 is central to, and not antithetical to, validating the syllogism described in Prior Analytics B 23. But did Aristotle really believe induction ultimately relies on what Groarke calls “a stroke or leap of understanding,” “immediate illumination,” “moment of immediate cognition,” “a direct insight,” “moment of illumination,” and so on? . . . Overall, what Groarke says here is provocativ…Read more
  •  34
    Marco Sgarbi, The Aristotelian Tradition and the Rise of British Empiricism: Logic and Epistemology in the British Isles, 1570–1689 (review)
    Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 5 (1): 204-207. 2015.
    Sgarbi just shows that in the century before Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding many writers mentioned induction and many claimed that knowledge must rely somehow on sense experience. An attempt to revive Randall’s thesis needs more than that.
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    How induction was understood took a substantial turn during the Renaissance. At the beginning, induction was understood as it had been throughout the medieval period, as a kind of propositional inference that is stronger the more it approximates deduction. During the Renaissance, an older understanding, one prevalent in antiquity, was rediscovered and adopted. By this understanding, induction identifies defining characteristics using a process of comparing and contrasting. Important participant…Read more
  •  222
    Since at least late antiquity, Aristotle’s Prior Analytics B 23 has been misread. Aristotle does not think that an induction is a syllogism made good by complete enumeration. The confusion can be eliminated by considering the nature of the surviving text and watching very closely Aristotle’s moving back and forth between “induction” and “syllogism from induction.” Though he does move freely between them, the two are not synonyms.
  •  233
    Induction in the Socratic Tradition
    In Louis F. Groarke & Paolo C. Biondi (eds.), Shifting the Paradigm: Alternative Perspectives on Induction, De Gruyter. pp. 161-192. 2014.
    Aristotle said that induction (epagōgē) is a proceeding from particulars to a universal, and the definition has been conventional ever since. But there is an ambiguity here. Induction in the Scholastic and the (so-called) Humean tradition has presumed that Aristotle meant going from particular statements to universal statements. But the alternate view, namely that Aristotle meant going from particular things to universal ideas, prevailed all through antiquity and then again from the time of Franc…Read more
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    Reviving material theories of induction
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 83. 2020.
    John Norton says that philosophers have been led astray for thousands of years by their attempt to treat induction formally. He is correct that such an attempt has caused no end of trouble, but he is wrong about the history. There is a rich tradition of non-formal induction. In fact, material theories of induction prevailed all through antiquity and from the Renaissance to the mid-1800s. Recovering these past systems would not only fill lacunae in Norton’s own theory but would highlight areas wh…Read more