The Object of Aristotelian Induction: Formal Cause or Composite Individual?

In Louis F. Groarke & Paolo C. Biondi (eds.), Shifting the Paradigm: Alternative Perspectives on Induction. De Gruyter. pp. 251-268 (2014)
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According to a long interpretative tradition, Aristotle holds that the formal cause is the ultimate object of induction when investigating perceptible substances. For, the job of induction is to find the essential nature common to a set of individuals, and that nature is captured solely by their shared formal cause. Against this view, I argue that Aristotle understands perceptible individuals as irreducibly composite objects whose nature is constituted by both their formal and their material cause. As a result, when investigating perceptible objects, the job of induction is to discover their composite, formal and material nature. The process by which universal claims about this composite nature are justified, I argue, is similar to what we now know as mathematical induction. In particular, such claims are grounded in a non-enumerative, but replicable process in which things are resolved into their simplest components. As a result, the observation of past uniformities has, at most, a heuristic function in scientific inquiry.



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Christopher Byrne
St. Francis Xavier University

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