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Analogy and Inference

  • William H. Shaw (a1) and L. R. Ashley (a2)


The nature of analogies, and their legitimacy in argumentation and inference, is a disputed subject. This essay is intended to shed some light on the tangle of issues that it involves. After discussing in section one the different functions of analogy, in particular in explanation and in science, we present in section two a prima facie defense of analogical argument against those who repudiate it entirely and in section three an account of its logical structure. Section four argues that analogical inference does not collapse, as some of its critics contend, into standard induction, and section five attempts to explicate more precisely the warrant for analogical inference. We conclude in section six by suggesting a typology for arguments from analogy.



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1 In conversation with the members of Professor Brandt's 1978–79 NEH seminar, Ann Arbor, April 7, 1979.

2 Reprinted in Flew, Anthony, ed., Logic and Language (first and second series; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965).

3 Waismann, F., The Principles of Linguistic Philosophy, ed. Harré, R. (London: Macmillan, 1965), 60.

4 James, William, Principles of Psychology, vol. 1 (New York: Dover, 1950), 582.

5 Charles M. Myers, “Inexplicable Analogies”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 22 (March 1962).

6 In fact, theologians have argued that analogy provides the only way in which the divine can be known; see Palmer, Humphrey, Analogy (London: Macmillan, 1973), andBurrell, D., Analogy and Philosophical Language (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973). InBlack's, Max terminology an “analogue model” represents the original structure or web of relationships in a different medium; see Models and Metaphors (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1962), 222.

7 Quine, W. V. O., Word and Object (Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 1960), 9; cf.Jevons, W. Stanley, The Principles of Science (New York: Dover, 1958), 628643.

8 Hempel, Carl G., Aspects of Scientific Explanation (New York: Free Press, 1965), 434436. Sometimes, of course, analogies mislead scientists as Bunge, Mario observes in Method, Model, and Matter (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1973), 125126. The literature on the different types of models and analogies in science is extensive. An accessible place to begin digging into it is Hesse, Mary, “Models and Analogy in Science”, in Edwards, Paul, ed., The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 5 (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 354359. An interesting recent contribution to the literature is Redhead, Michael, “Models in Physics”, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 31/2 (June 1980).

9 Thagard, Paul R., “The Best Explanation: Criteria for Theory Choice”, Journal of Philosophy 75/2 (February 1978), 8991; andAchinstein, Peter, Law and Explanation (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), 132–133, 153155.

10 Campbell, Norman R., “The Structure of Theories”, in Feigl, H. and Brodbeck, M., eds., Readings in the Philosophy of Science (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1953). A prime target of Campbell was, of course,Duhem, Pierre; see in particular the latter's The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (New York: Atheneum, 1962), Part 1, chap. 4.

11 Hempel, , Aspects, 442445.

12 Mill, J.S., “Of Analogy”, in Nagel, E. and Brandt, R. B., eds., Meaning and Knowledge (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965), 350,

13 Beardsley, Monroe, Practical Logic (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1950), 105109; andCopi, Irving M., Introduction to Logic (5th ed.; New York: Macmillan, 1978), chap. 11.

14 Keynes, J. Maynard, A Treatise on Probability (London: Macmillan, 1921), 247.

15 Mill, , “Of Analogy”, 351.

16 E.g., Copi, Introduction; Kahane, Howard, Logic and Philosophy (2nd ed.; Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1973), 255256;Cornman, James W. and Lehrer, Keith, Philosophical Problems and Arguments (New York: Macmillan, 1974), 368369; andSalmon, Wesley, Logic (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1963), 7073.

17 Cf. Strawson, Peter F., “The 'Justification' of Induction”, in Nagel, E. and Brandt, R. B., eds., Meaning and Knowledge (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965).

18 Goodman, Nelson, Fact, Fiction, and Forecast (3rd ed.; Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1973), 6364. Goodman himself does not mention arguments from analogy.

19 Beardsley, , Practical Logic, 105109.

20 Quine, W. V. O., The Web of Belief (2nd ed.; New York: Random House, 1978), 9091. On Quine's view both induction and analogy produce hypotheses which still need to be evaluated and confirmed, but this does not entail that such inferences carry no epistemic warrant in and of themselves. The nature and extent of that warrant in the case of analogical inference is the subject of this paper. Accordingly, Herbert Feigl (“Other Minds and the Egocentric Predicament”, Journal of Philosophy, November 6, 1958, 979) is mistaken to denigrate analogical arguments for whose conclusions direct evidence is not available. (These are precisely the interesting and important cases.) On the one hand, if the conclusion has been directly established, one hardly needs an analogy. On the other hand, prior to its conclusion being checked, the argument is no stronger as an analogical inference than, ceteris paribiis. one whose conclusion cannot be directly confirmed (or disconfirmed).

21 Popper, Karl R., Objective Knowledge (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), 23–24, 96.

22 Quoted by Keynes, A Treatise, 217.

23 Stebbing, L. S., A Modern Introduction to Logic (2nd ed.; New York: Humanities Press, n.d. [1933]), 249250;Eaton, Ralph M., General Logic (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1931), 550560;Cohen, Morris R. and Nagel, Ernest, An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1934), 286288;Keynes, , A Treatise, 217273; and Jevons, , Principles, 596597.

24 Thomson, Judith Jarvis, “A Defense of Abortion”, Philosophy and Public Affairs 1/1 (Fall 1971).

25 Goodman, , Fact, Fiction, and Forecast, 9495. Contrast Keynes, A Treatise, 258 and passim. Russell, Bertrand discusses Keynes' “postulate of limited variety” in Human Knowledge (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1948), 438444. See also Hesse, Mary on “clustering” in The Structure of Scientific Inference (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974), 167–169, 208209, and passim.

26 Mill, , “Of Analogy”, 353.

27 See Achinstein, , Law and Explanation, 132133, and Stebbing, , A Modern Introduction, 255.


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