A little taste of something I prepared for my students studying the MBA…
We tend to think there are two types of reasoning:
- deduction, where we move with logical certainty from general principles to a particular conclusion, as in “all swans are white, this is a swan, so this must be white”
- and induction, where we move from particular observations to general principles, as in “all the swans that have ever been seen are white, so all swans are white”
Deduction is infallible as long as the premises are true, while induction yields probabilities that can always be falsified by events – the black swans that turn up when no one is expecting them.
There is another, more conjectural kind – sometimes called abductive reasoning – that can’t offer certainty or any precise assessment of probability, only the best available account of events. Importantly, this kind of reasoning can’t be practised simply by following rules.
“When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abductive_reasoning
- John Tropea: Abduction: Generating coherent hypotheses under conditions of uncertainty (johntropea.tumblr.com)
- Power laws & abductive research – Cognitive Edge Network Blog (cognitive-edge.com)