IT Best Practices

Deductive Reasoning vs. Inductive Reasoning

Deductive, inductive, abductive – who could possibly distinguish between these terms when they all sound so similar? And how can the professional use them properly in a business or IT setting? Alina Bradford elaborates on their proper use in an article for Live Science.

Deduction: General to Specific

Deductive reasoning starts with a general statement – “My flash drive is missing,” and then works toward a logical conclusion by examining a range of possibilities. This is part and parcel of the scientific method. It is how theories are tested. For instance, if the hypothesis, “The dog ate my flash drive,” is correct, then upon examining the dog’s insides (with an X-ray at the vet) one might find the flash drive somewhere between the dog’s stomach and large intestine. Upon proving our hypothesis correct, we might then deduce that for a particular class of things, if something is correct, then it is correct for that entire class. For instance, we might also prove the hypothesis that “My missing mail was eaten by the neighbor’s dog,” and therefore conclude that all dogs eat things they shouldn’t. We have now formulated “The Delinquent Canine Ingestion Theory” by moving from a general hypothesis to a specific set of observations.

Induction: Specific to General

Inductive reasoning starts with a set of specific observations – “The dog just ate something in my office and is now skulking with tail between legs; my flash drive is suddenly missing; my dog is having digestion problems; my flash drive was shaped like a doggie treat; etc.” Once we’ve identified what appears to be a pattern, we then formulate hypotheses and theories. But inductive reasoning may prove a deductive hypothesis wrong, and vice versa. For instance, perhaps the dog did not eat your flash drive, despite all the evidence that he did. Upon deductive testing (trip to the vet), you might find that he instead has a stomach ulcer. Similarly, if we inductively observe a pattern in our fiancée’s dog that suggests it only eats dog food, we’ve just proved that not all dogs eat things they shouldn’t. By utilizing both methods, and not relying too heavily on just one, it is possible to get closer to the truth of a matter.

Lastly, there are some words to spare about abductive reasoning:

Another form of scientific reasoning that doesn’t fit in with inductive or deductive reasoning is abductive. Abductive reasoning usually starts with an incomplete set of observations and proceeds to the likeliest possible explanation for the group of observations, according to Butte College. It is based on making and testing hypotheses using the best information available. It often entails making an educated guess after observing a phenomenon for which there is no clear explanation.

That concludes our lesson for today. Hopefully you now have a better idea of how to apply logical reasoning in the workplace, and perhaps a sudden notion of why your favorite ear buds have gone missing.

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