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Epistemic Principles

A Primer for the Theory of Knowledge

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Nicholas Rescher

Epistemic Principles: A Primer of the Theory of Knowledge presents a compact account of the basic principles of the theory of knowledge. In doing this, Nicholas Rescher aims to fill the current gap in contemporary philosophical theory of knowledge with a comprehensive analysis of epistemological fundamentals. The book is not a mere inventory of such rules and principles, but rather interweaves them into a continuous exposition of basic issues. Written at a user-friendly and accessible level, Epistemic Principles is an essential addition for both advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in epistemology.
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Chapter 13. Experience and Induction

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EXPERIENCE AND INDUCTION

The starting point for deliberations about inductive reasoning is set by our factual questions—questions about the world regarding which we want and need to have the best available answers. Now at this juncture a “this-or- nothing” argument comes into operation. Our only access to information about our envisioning world is through interaction with it. And such interaction is what experience is all about. (And here “experience” must be broadly construed to encompass the whole gamut of interaction-with-nature-generated cues and clues that serve as grist to the mill of inquiry.) Our cognitive machinery must have informative inputs to provide factual knowledge and experience is the only source of such input that we have. The empiricist insight holds good: we have no alternative but to rely on experience as the basis of our factual information about the world.

We take ourselves to have knowledge of innumerable things and occurrences with which we have no experiential contact: atoms, x-rays, other minds, the big bang. Such items enter our cognition not just through observation but by the mediation of theory. Cognition of such matters is the fruit not of observation as such, but of the systematization of observation within a framework of explanatory understanding. And however strange and far-fetched such conceptions may seem, they pay their way, so to speak, in enabling us to come ← 73 | 74 → to cognitive terms with the deliverance of our observational experience. We accept them...

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