Consilience of Inductions and the Problem of Conceptual Change in Science

  • Robert E. Butts
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 155)


If, in our induction, every individual case has actually been present to our minds, we are sure that it will find itself duly represented in our final conclusion: but this is impossible for such cases as were unknown to us and hardly ever happens even with all the known cases; for such is the tendency of the human mind to speculation, that on the least idea of an analogy between a few phenomena, it leaps forward, as it were, to a cause or law, to the temporary neglect of all the rest; so that, in fact, almost all our principal inductions must be regarded as a series of ascents and descents, and of conclusions from a few cases, verified by trial on many.... The surest and best characteristic of a well-founded and extensive induction, however, is when verifications of it spring up, as it were, spontaneously, into notice, from quarters where they might least be expected, or even among instances of that very kind which were at first considered hostile to them. Evidence of this kind is irresistible, and compels assent with a weight which scarcely any other possesses.


Conceptual Change Semantic Change Confirmation Theory Deductive Form Evidence Class 
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  1. 1.
    See the following papers: Hesse (1968a); Cohen (1968); Mackie (1968); Kneale (1968); and Hesse (1968b). See also Laudan (1971b); Hesse (1971); Laudan (1971b); and Butts (1973b). I have rewritten portions of the present essay, largely on the basis of comments made by Adolf Grünbaum and Larry Laudan. I also learned a lot about Whewell’s methodology from students in my spring 1971 seminar on nineteenth-century British methodology, especially Brian Cupples, Parker English, and Danny Steinberg.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Both Augustus DeMorgan and John Stuart Mill were particularly apt at locating Whewell’s logical lapses. See, for example, the brief discussion of DeMorgan’s criticisms in Butts, 1968, pp. 24-26.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Salmon, 1970, p. 77, contains a good brief survey of difficulties with the hypothetico-deductive account. The hypothetico-deductive account presupposes a firm distinction between theoretical and observational sentences. This distinction has been called into question by a number of writers for a number of reasons, and if it is true that all observation is theory-laden, the hypothetico-deductive method is in trouble on that score as well.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Salmon, 1970, p. 77.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Salmon, 1970, pp. 85-86.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Butts, 1968, pp. 138-39.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Butts, 1973b, pp. 73-76; and Butts, 1970, pp. 145-47.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Butts, 1973b, pp. 57-61.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Hesse, 1968a, pp. 239-246.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Laudan, 1971a, p. 374.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hesse, 1971, p. 520.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Hesse, 1971, p. 521.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Butts, 1968, pp. 169-170.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Butts, 1968, p. 163. Emphasis added.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Laudan, 1971a, pp. 384-87.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    See Butts, 1973b.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Recall that Pierre Duhem had argued that some of the laws involved in the Newtonian synthesis not only did not relate to one another deductively, but were in fact logically incompatible (Duhem, 1953, p. 245). An irony in Whewell’s own work is the fact that he knew that in the case of the tides, there were not even adequate data for the inverse-square law to describe, until Whewell himself had collected such data in the mid-nineteenth century! Unfortunately, a detailed study of Whewell’s work on the tides has not been made. I make brief reference to his work in Butts, 1975.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Butts, 1968, p. 157.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Butts, 1968, pp. 260-61.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Hesse, 1971, p. 523.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Butts, 1970, pp. 139-142.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Butts, 1968, pp. 332-37.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Butts, 1968, pp. 330, 331.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Butts, 1970, pp. 139-140.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    I will be suggesting shortly that the importance of consilience as a measure for comparing competitive theories (including methodologies) has been largely unnoticed, and that without such comparative theoretical situations, consilience cannot be taken as a measure of the acceptability of theories at all. Like simplicity as usually viewed, consilience only takes on importance as a mark by means of which, when comparing theories, we take one to be preferable to some other.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Butts, 1968, pp. 160 ff.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Butts, 1968, p. 159.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    See Butts, 1973b.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Whewell, 1858, p. 5.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Butts, 1968, pp. 216-17.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    I am indebted to Larry Laudan for providing criticisms that convinced me that my model for consilience was too narrow. I believe that there is still much to be done on the question of when two hypotheses are about things “of the same kind,” but I now see that sameness does not necessarily mean membership in the same evidence class.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert E. Butts
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyThe University of Western OntarioCanada

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