Free «Raven's Problem» Essay Sample

Raven's Problem

The Raven’s Problem, a central paradox featured in scientific methods, which basically involves inductive reasoning, was presented by a philosopher Carl Hempel. This essay aims at describing the Raven’s Problem as well as explaining the ways it can be resolved.

To begin with, Hempel used ravens as an example to explain the problem. The person participating in the experiment has to assume that he or she sees a raven that is black in color. After this encounter, all other ravens that are seen are black. One may then conclude that the observation is beyond coincidence, and it is just that all ravens are black. However, this hypothesis has an equivalent form implying that all things that are not black in color are non-ravens. As a result, every time one sees a black raven, the hypothesis that all ravens are black is confirmed. The same reasoning may be applied when one sees a non-black non-raven thing.

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However, the above kind of inductive reasoning leads to a paradoxical conclusion. Firstly, according to the hypothesis, every sight of a non-black thing would lead to the conclusion that it is not a raven. Subsequently, if somebody sees a blue shirt, they would argue that it is not a raven because it is not black; thus, such a conclusion appears irrelevant and lacking sense. On the same note, each time one sees a raven that is black in color, it serves as a confirmation that all ravens are black. However, the fact that all ravens that one sees are black does not necessarily mean that all ravens are black. Notwithstanding, it is a fact that every time an instance A that is in accordance with some theory B is observed, it leads to an even stronger belief that the theory B is true. This is contrary to the fact that all unobserved things are not necessarily consistent with the observed things. Subsequently, it may be weird to conclude that just because one happened to see many blue shirts, all of the shirts are blue. On the other hand, the inference that all non-blue items are not shirts is also inadequate.

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One way in which the paradox might be resolved is to reject the idea that the confirmation of a hypothesis constitutes evidence. Irrespective of the number of black ravens observed, it does not amount to evidence as to the black color of all ravens. This is due to the fact that there may still be other non-observed ravens that are not black in color. In the same way, confirming that all non-black things are not ravens is not the evidence that all ravens are black. Again, there may be non-black ravens that have not been observed.

The other way of the paradox resolution is to consider only a part of the induction. In this case, it may be acceptable that even though all ravens could be black, the fact that non-black things that are observed are not ravens does not confirm that all ravens are black. Finally, the third option would be to accept solely the inductive reasoning and only in those situations that are relevant and make sense. In other instances, however, it should be rejected. For example, with a hypothesis that all ravens are black, it may make sense to say that other types of non-black birds that are observed are not ravens. However, this is again not the evidence that all-ravens are black; it is only that it makes sense to argue that way.

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In conclusion, the Raven’s Problem will always be present in scientific experiments as long as a conclusion is made without taking into account the entire population. Although the latter may not be possible, from a philosophical perspective, sampling does not provide evidence.