Your Guide to Inductive Reasoning: Definition & Types

inductive reasoning

When you look outside and see the sun shining, you naturally think to yourself, “It probably won’t rain today.  I don’t need my umbrella.”  Numerous sunny days in the past have proven this, and it’s a reasonable conclusion.  It’s also a very common example of how you use inductive reasoning in your everyday life. Without even knowing it, you are continually making observations and relating them back to past experiences to come to possible conclusions.  

Inductive reasoning is a critical component of scientific research, probability, statistics, and even what detectives and lawyers use to help prove their cases and solve crimes.  This type of reasoning helps us learn more about the world around us and apply it to unknown situations, so we can better understand how things work.  If you’ve never thought about inductive reasoning, you might wonder what it is exactly, and how it benefits your daily life.

This guide will define inductive reasoning, teach you more about the different forms of this reasoning, give examples of inductive reasoning, and even touch a little on a few other types of logic.  

Inductive Reasoning Definition

So, what is inductive reasoning exactly?  The inductive reasoning definition allows you to look at specific facts and then extrapolate general conclusions.  For example, you can observe the population data in a city for the past 20 years.  You can see that the population increases as the years pass and you want to predict the population in the years to come.  Using the information or evidence you have, you can guess at what the population will be in the next five years.

Inductive reasoning works a lot with probability and it won’t always lead to the correct conclusion.  You can use evidence and data to back up your judgement or claim, but there is always a chance that new evidence or facts will come to light that proves you wrong.  

The Other Types of Reasoning

There are dozens of types of reasoning, too many to go in-depth in a single guide.  But two additional types of thinking can help us better understand inductive reasoning and how to use it.  These include deductive and abductive reasoning.

Deductive Reasoning

Whenever the topic of inductive reasoning comes up, deductive reasoning is soon to follow.  That is because deductive is opposite to inductive reasoning.  This reasoning is sometimes called top-down logic which contrasts the bottom-up logic of inductive reasoning.

In deductive reasoning, you make a conclusion based on facts that are assumed to be true.  You follow those facts to a logical and most likely correct conclusion.  A classic example of deductive reasoning includes this:

  • All men are mortal.
  • Jim is a man.
  • Therefore, Jim is mortal.  

In this example, both the first two statements are true.  All men are mortal, and Jim is a man.  Based on this evidence, it is safe to assume or hypothesize that Jim is also mortal.  Most deductive reasoning follows this path of logical evidence to arrive at a reasonable conclusion.

Abductive Reasoning

Abductive reasoning is like inductive reasoning but allows for more guessing.  With abductive reasoning, you look at observations or information that might not be entirely complete.  Based on the information you have, then you hypothesize or guess what the outcome might be.

Many medical professionals use abductive reasoning to make diagnoses.  When a patient comes in with a particular set of symptoms, the doctor must do their best to come up with a logical answer or diagnosis.  The doctor might not have all the information such as family history or a series of bloodwork, but they can use the limited information they do have to come to a conclusion.  

Abductive reasoning allows a little more freedom than deductive reasoning or even inductive reasoning, but it can lead to many wrong conclusions before the right one becomes clear.

Various Forms of Inductive Reasoning

Bottom-down logic is a simple definition of inductive reason.  While it helps give a better picture of how this reasoning works, there are more detailed forms of inductive reasoning.  In fact, there are three primary forms of inductive reasoning.

Inductive Generalization

This is the form of inductive reasoning already discussed above.  You are presented with a situation, look at evidence from previous similar cases and then draw a conclusion based on the facts you already have.  For instance:

  • Mom likes when I wash the dishes after dinner.
  • I washed the dishes after dinner.
  • Mom will probably be happy.  

Statistical Induction

This form of induction is very similar to inductive generalization, but it uses statistical data to help draw a conclusion.  For example:

  • 67% of people who exercise prevent strokes.
  • Andy exercises.
  • Andy has a 67% chance of avoiding a stroke.  

In this case, the conclusion uses statistical evidence from previous or similar scenarios.  Statistical induction provides a little more weight to a prediction or possible outcome, but again new evidence that strays from previous evidence can prove a theory wrong.

Induction by Confirmation

This inductive reasoning suggests a possible outcome but must include specific assumptions to accept the result.  You can see this reasoning a lot with police or detective work.  

  • Adam broke into a house.
  • Anyone who broke into a house will have motive, means, and opportunity.
  • Adam was homeless, had lock picks in his pocket, and was in the neighborhood.  
  • Adam most likely broke into the house.

In this scenario, you have a possible hypothesis but to prove it you must have certain evidence.  The fact that Adam had a lock pick in the neighborhood that the house was broken into and was homeless strongly points to him being the trespasser.  

Advantages and Disadvantages of Inductive Reasoning

Just like anything in life, inductive reasoning has its advantages and disadvantages.  There are times when using inductive reasoning won’t help you discover anything new, or you might face some limitations with this line of reasoning.  But in many aspects, there are even advantages to the pitfalls of inductive reasoning.

Pros to Inductive Reasoning

The first advantage you find with inductive reasoning is that you get a chance to work with a broad range of probabilities.  There is no limit to what you could infer based on a set of data or presented evidence.  Inductive reasoning gives you a starting point when you don’t have much to go on.  Once you have that starting point, you can continue to work to find answers.

Inductive reasoning also helps fuel exploration and research.  While the public might view science and research as very absolute, there is a lot of questioning and doubt and even absolute failure that plays into learning about theories and the way things work.  By using inductive reasoning, you can come up with many different solutions to one problem and then use research to test each hypothesis.  It’s a very healthy way learn about things you have limited knowledge about and teaches you to not always trust the very first guess about something.

Finally, inductive reasoning is a significant part of how we interact with others.  All our past experiences create a data set, so to speak, that help us make judgments and decisions about current situations.  Just like our first example with the sunny day and probability of no rain, we can use inductive reasoning to help propel us forward in new situations.  

Cons to Inductive Reasoning

Ironically, one of the biggest weaknesses of inductive reasoning is also one of its strengths.  The fact that you can only make a guess based on limited knowledge, evidence, or facts.  That gives you the opportunity to explore, but it also limits the foundation you can use.  If for example, you look at 100 cats and observe that they all hiss at dogs, you might conclude that all cats hiss at dogs.  The reasoning is sound, but the data used is limited.  You only observed 100 cats, and you can’t extrapolate that to every single cat.  

Basically, if you use inductive reasoning, you need to understand that there is always room for error.  There are many times your theory or guess will end up being wrong.  But that is also the beauty of inductive reasoning because you now know another piece of information and can use that to learn more.

Using Inductive Reasoning and More Examples

More than likely, you use some form of inductive reasoning every day.  It’s a natural way for the mind to work.  You see or observe something and then try to apply it to other unknown but similar situations.  But what about in professional situations?

Numerous professions use inductive reasoning including scientists, detectives, politicians, medical professionals, attorneys, and many more.  Inductive reasoning is a standard tool for many professions and the more you use it, the better you understand it.

Another way to continue to grasp the concept of inductive reasoning is to look at numerous examples.  Here are just a few inductive reasoning examples to help you further understand this concept:

  • Whenever Jodie eats shellfish, she breaks out into hives.  Therefore, she is allergic to shellfish.
  • The pillows in the living room are navy.  The pillows in the den are navy.  The pillows in the bedroom are also navy.  All the pillows in the house are navy.
  • David leaves for work at 8:00 am.  David is always late to work.  David assumes that if he always leaves at 8:00 am he will always be late to work.
  • All the boys in school have curly hair.  All the boys in the neighborhood must also have curly hair.  
  • The coin I took from the box is a dime.  The second coin I took from the box is a dime and so is the third coin.  All coins in the box are dimes.
  • All grandfathers are bald.  Alan is bald, so he must be a grandfather.  

These are just a few examples, and while some of them might be silly, they help show how inductive reasoning works.  Now that you have an inductive reasoning definition, you can use it to help explore the world around you and come to conclusions about how things work.


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