Inductive Reasoning Involving Social Kinds

Journal of the American Philosophical Association:1-20 (forthcoming)
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Most social policies cannot be defended without making inductive inferences. For example, consider certain arguments for racial profiling and affirmative action, respectively. They begin with statistics about crime or socioeconomic indicators. Next, there is an inductive step in which the statistic is projected from the past to the future. Finally, there is a normative step in which a policy is proposed as a response in the service of some goal—for example, to reduce crime or to correct socioeconomic imbalances. In comparison to the normative step, the inductive step of a policy defense may seem trivial. We argue that this is not so. Satisfying the demands of the inductive step is difficult, and doing so has important but underappreciated implications for the normative step. In this paper, we provide an account of induction in social contexts and explore its implications for policy. Our account helps to explain which normative principles we ought to accept, and as a result it can explain why it is acceptable to make inferences involving race in some contexts (e.g., in defense of affirmative action) but not in others (e.g., in defense of racial profiling).

Author Profiles

Barrett Emerick
St. Mary's College of Maryland
Tyler Hildebrand
Dalhousie University


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