Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Hans Reichenbach’s pragmatic treatment of the problem of induction in his later works on inductive inference was, and still is, of great interest. However, it has been dismissed as a pseudo-solution and it has been regarded as problematically obscure. This is, in large part, due to the difficulty in understanding exactly what Reichenbach’s solution is supposed to amount to, especially as it appears to offer no response to the inductive skeptic. For entirely different reasons, the significance of Bertrand Russell’s classic attempt to solve Hume’s problem is also both obscure and controversial. Russell accepted that Hume’s reasoning about induction was basically correct, but he argued that given the centrality of induction in our cognitive endeavors something must be wrong with Hume’s basic assumptions. What Russell effectively identified as Hume’s (and Reichenbach’s) failure was the commitment to a purely extensional empiricism. So, Russell’s solution to the problem of induction was to concede extensional empiricism and to accept that induction is grounded by accepting both a robust essentialism and a form of rationalism that allowed for a priori knowledge of universals. In this paper the significance of Reichenbach’s solution to the problem of induction will be made clearer via the comparison of these two historically important views about the problem of induction. The modest but important contention that will be made here is that the comparison of Reichenbach’s and Russell’s solutions calls attention to the opposition between extensional and intensional metaphysical presuppositions in the context of attempts to solve the problem of induction.

This paper addresses the problem of induction through the lens of Reichenbach’s and Russell’s attempts to resolve Hume’s infamous problem in terms of their particular metaphysical commitments.


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