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Futures Past and Futures Future JAMES SOMERVILLE I. INTRODUCTION THE PROBLEM Or THE justification of inductive inference has been called "Hume's Problem. ''l Nowadays Russell's account in the chapter on induction in The Problems of Philosophy is likely to be an introduction to the problem. One issue concerns how what Russell calls the inductive principle is to be proved. Russell concludes that "we can never use experience to prove the inductive principle without begging the question."' The term "the inductive principle" was used by Reid, who following up Hume's treatment of induction writes that "the very question to be resolved" is "how we come to believe that the future will be like the past."~ Russell's conclusion is in apparent agreement with Reid's doctrine. Yet while Russell's inductive principle seems sometimes to coincide with Reid's in being about the operation of nature, it is strictly for Russell a principle of inference.4 In fact both their inductive principles suffer from ambiguity of status. Reid's presentation of the problem of induction led Priestley to reply that we have no reason to doubt whether the future will be like the past because we have always found it to be so. Campbell, in turn, objects that Priestley's reply to Reid begs the question whether the resemblance of the future to the past which we have hitherto found can be extended to a future we have yet no experience of. ' See Nelson Goodman, Fact, Fiction and Forecast, 4th ed., (Harvard UniversityPress, 1983), 61. Georg Henrik ~on Wright alsospeaks of "the problem of Hume"; see A Treatise on Induction and Probability (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, t95x), ~o. ' Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (19x~), chapter 6 (Oxford University Press, 1989), 38. Cited hereinafter by "'PP"followedby page numbers to this edition. s An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764) in The Works of Thomas Be/d, ed. William Hamilton (Edinburgh: James Thin, 1895; reprinted as two volumes in one, llildesheim: C, eorg Olms Verlag, 1983), 198. All references to Reid are to page numbers of this edition. 4 RonaldE. Beanblossom--see "Russell'sIndebtedness to Reid,"The Mordst 61 (1978): 192- ~o4--seems to assume that Russell'sinductive principle is the sameas Reid's; see 197-98. [1o3] 104 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 30:1 JANUARY ~992 Russell's distinction between past futures and future futures neatly encapsulates Campbell's rejoinder to Priestley. Priestley's attempted solution of the problem prompts the question whether Reid is correct in supposing that the very question to be resolved concerns the future's resemblance to the past. Reid inherited this presumption from Hume. But Hume has another way of putting the problem, when he questions the legitimacy of the appeal to experience as such. Here the problem is not how the truth of a proposition about the workings of nature is to be established, but how a method of argument is to be shown to be reasonable: hence Russell's dominant conception of his inductive principle as a principle of inference. It may not be clear to those unfamiliar with the theory of probability Russell borrowed from Keynes that the reasonableness rather than the truth of inductive conclusions is what is at issue. Unlike Keynes, however, Russell falls into confusion in that he argues, as did his eighteenth-century predecessors Reid and Campbell, that to try to establish the truth of the inductive principle by experience would be to beg the question. If the inductive principle is solely a principle of inference one could not even attempt to use experience to establish its legitimacy. Finally, something needs to be said on the whole question of begging the question. So to begin, Russell anticipates an objection to what he has said about the difficulty of justifying induction: "It has been argued that we have reason to know that the future will resemble that past, because what was the future has constantly become the past, and has always been found to resemble the past, so that we really have experience of the future, namely of times which were formerly future, which we may call...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 103-121
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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