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Meta-Induction and Social Epistemology: Computer Simulations of Prediction Games

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 January 2012


The justification of induction is of central significance for cross-cultural social epistemology. Different ‘epistemological cultures’ do not only differ in their beliefs, but also in their belief-forming methods and evaluation standards. For an objective comparison of different methods and standards, one needs (meta-)induction over past successes. A notorious obstacle to the problem of justifying induction lies in the fact that the success of object-inductive prediction methods (i.e., methods applied at the level of events) can neither be shown to be universally reliable (Hume's insight) nor to be universally optimal. My proposal towards a solution of the problem of induction is meta-induction. The meta-inductivist applies the principle of induction to all competing prediction methods that are accessible to her. By means of mathematical analysis and computer simulations of prediction games I show that there exist meta-inductive prediction strategies whose success is universally optimal among all accessible prediction strategies, modulo a small short-run loss. The proposed justification of meta-induction is mathematically analytical. It implies, however, an a posteriori justification of object-induction based on the experiences in our world. In the final section I draw conclusions about the significance of meta-induction for the social spread of knowledge and the cultural evolution of cognition, and I relate my results to other simulation results which utilize meta-inductive learning mechanisms.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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