Philosophers distinguish between two types of argument – deductive and inductive. Successful deductive arguments are valid – if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. In this case, we say that the conclusion is entailed by the premises. Here is a famous example:
Premise 1: Socrates is a man. Premise 2: All men are mortal. Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.
A valid deductive argument with true premises is called sound. But a valid deductive argument doesn’t have to have true premises. Here is an example:
Premise 1: There are gnomes in my house.
Premise 2: My house is in Oxford.
Conclusion: Therefore, there are gnomes in Oxford.
If the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true – so the argument is valid. But the premises aren’t both true.
There are two ways that a deductive argument can ‘go wrong’. First, it could be invalid: even if the premises are true, it is possible that the conclusion might be false. Second, it could be unsound: even though the conclusion is entailed by the premises, at least one of the premises is false.
A successful inductive argument is an argument whose conclusion is supported by its premis...
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...azor, which says ‘Don’t multiply entities beyond necessity’. Don’t put forward a hypothesis that says many different things exist when a simpler explanation will do as well. A simpler explanation is a better explanation, as long as it is just as successful. For example, the explanation that plants flower in the spring in response to an increase in light and temperature is a better explanation than saying that they flower in the spring because that’s when the fairies wake them up. The second explanation is committed to the existence of fairies – and we shouldn’t think that fairies exist unless there is something we cannot explain without thinking they exist.
2. Accuracy: a good hypothesis fits the evidence that we are trying to explain.
3. Plausibility: a good hypothesis fits with what else we already know.
4. Scope: a good hypothesis explains a wide range of evidence.
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