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Discoverers' Induction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2022

Laura J. Snyder*
Department of Philosophy, St. John's University
Send reprint requests to the author, Department of Philosophy, St. John's University, 8000 Utopia Parkway, Jamaica, NY 11439.


In this paper I demonstrate that, contrary to the standard interpretations, William Whewell's view of scientific method is neither that of the hypothetico-deductivist nor that of the retroductivist. Rather, he offers a unique inductive methodology, which he calls “discoverers' induction.” After explicating this methodology, I show that Kepler's discovery of his first law of planetary motion conforms to it, as Whewell claims it does. In explaining Whewell's famous phrase about “happy guesses” in science, I suggest that Whewell intended a distinction between “inductions,” which can be empirically verified, and “mere hypotheses”—or guesses—which cannot. Finally, I argue that Whewell's discoverers' induction is a view worthy of our attention today, because it avoids a number of problems faced by prominent alternative methodologies.

Research Article
Copyright © Philosophy of Science Association 1997

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Several of the points made here were initially presented at the Philosophy of Science Association/History of Science Society joint meetings in October, 1994, as part of the session entitled “William Whewell (1794–1866): The Bicentennial Session.” I received helpful comments from audience members, especially Ernan McMullin and Geoffrey Cantor, as well as from the other participants in the session: Harvey Becher, Michael Ruse, and David Wilson. Earlier versions of this paper were read by Peter Achinstein, Stephen Barker, Arthur Gianelli, Kenneth Schaffner, and Robert Smith; I appreciate their suggestions, as well as those of an anonymous referee of this journal.


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