Deductive reasoning

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Deductive reasoning, also deductive logic, logical deduction or, informally, "top-down" logic, is the process of reasoning from one or more statements (premises), linking those premises to a logically certain conclusion. If all premises are true, the terms are clear, and the rules of deductive logic are followed, then the conclusion reached is necessarily true. It differs from inductive reasoning or abductive reasoning.


  • "I exist" does not follow from "there is a thought now." The fact that a thought occurs at a given moment does not entail that any other thought has occurred at any other moment, still less that there has occurred a series of thoughts sufficient to constitute a single self. As Hume conclusively showed, no one event intrinsically points to any other. We infer the existence of events which we are not actually observing, with the help of general principle. But these principles must be obtained inductively. By mere deduction from what is immediately given we cannot advance a single step beyond. And, consequently, any attempt to base a deductive system on propositions which describe what is immediately given is bound to be a failure.
  • Between the workable empiricism of the early land measurers... of ancient Egypt and the geometry of the Greeks in the sixth century before Christ, there is a great chasm. ...and the chasm is bridged by deductive reasoning applied consciously and deliberately to the practical inductions of daily life. Without the strictest deductive proof from admitted assumptions, explicitly stated as such, mathematics does not exist. This does not deny that intuition, experiment, induction, and plain guessing are important elements in mathematical invention. It merely states the criterion by which the final product of all guessing, by whatever name it be dignified, is judged to be or not to be mathematics.
    It is not known where or when the distinction between inductive inference—the summation of raw experience—and deductive proof from a set of postulates was first made, but it was sharply recognized by the Greek mathematicians as early as 550 B.C.
  • It has fallen to the lot of one people, the ancient Greeks, to endow human thought with two outlooks on the universe neither of which has blurred appreciably in more than two thousand years. ...The first was the explicit recognition that proof by deductive reasoning offers a foundation for the structure of number and form. The second was the daring conjecture that nature can be understood by human beings through mathematics, and that mathematics is the language most adequate for idealizing the complexity of nature into appreciable simplicity.
    Both are attributed by persistent Greek tradition to Pythagoras in the sixth century before Christ. ...there is an equally persistent tradition that it was Thales... who first proved a theorem in geometry. But there seems to be no claim that Thales... proposed the inerrant tactic of definitions, postulates, deductive proof, theorem as a universal method in mathematics. attributing any specific advance to Pythagoras himself, it must be remembered that the Pythagorean brotherhood was one of the world's earliest unpriestly cooperative scientific societies, if not the first, and that its members assigned the common work of all by mutual consent to their master.
    • Eric Temple Bell, The Development of Mathematics (1940)
  • With the completion of Euclid's Elements... For the first time in history masses of isolated discoveries were unified and correlated by a single guided principle, that of rigid deduction from explicitly stated assumptions. ...Not until 1839, in the work of ...D. Hilbert, was the full impact of Euclid's methodology felt in all mathematics.
    Concurrently with the pragmatic demonstration of the postulational method in arithmetic, geometry, algebra, topology, the theory of point sets, and analysis which distinguished the first four decades of the twentieth century, the method became almost popular in theoretical physics in the 1930's through the work of P. A. M. Dirac. Earlier scientific essays in the method, notably by E. Mach in mechanics and A. Einstein in relativity, had shown that the postulational approach is not only clarifying but creative. Mathematicians and scientists of the conservative persuasion may feel that a science constrained by an explicitly formulated set of assumptions has lost some of its freedom... Experience shows that the only loss is denial of the privilege of making avoidable mistakes in reasoning. ...Objection to the method is neither more nor less than objection to mathematics. ...If the Pythagorean dream of a mathematized science is to be realized, all of the sciences must eventually submit to the discipline that geometry accepted from Euclid.
  • Robert [Grosseteste] became much interested in science and scientific method … He was conscious of the dual approach by means of induction and deduction (resolution and composition); i.e., from the empirical knowledge one proceeds to probable general principles, and from these as premises one them derives conclusions which constitute verifications or falsifications of the principles. This approach to science was not that far removed from Aristotle ...
    • Carl B. Boyer, The Rainbow: From Myth to Mathematics (1959) p. 88.
  • I cannot see why it is necessary that every deduction from algebra should be bound to certain conventions incident to an earlier stage of mathematical learning, even supposing them to have been consistently used up to the point in question. I should not care if any one thought this treatise unalgebraical, but should only ask whether the premises were admissible and the conclusions logical.
  • Experience has convinced me that the proper way of teaching is to bring together that which is simple from all quarters, and, if I may use such a phrase, to draw upon the surface of the subject a proper mean between the line of closest connexion and the line of easiest deduction. This was the method followed by Euclid, who, fortunately for us, never dreamed of a geometry of triangles, as distinguished from a geometry of circles, or a separate application of the arithmetics of addition and subtraction; but made one help out the other as he best could.
  • The long chains of simple and easy reasonings by means of which geometers are accustomed to reach the conclusions of their most difficult demonstrations, had led me to imagine that all things, to the knowledge of which man is competent, are mutually connected in the same way, and that there is nothing so far removed from us as to be beyond our reach, or so hidden that we cannot discover it, provided only we abstain from accepting the false for the true, and always preserve in our thoughts the order necessary for the deduction of one truth from another.
  • The two operations of our understanding, intuition and deduction, on which alone we have said we must rely in the acquisition of knowledge.
  • The two great conceptual revolutions of twentieth-century science, the overturning of classical physics by Werner Heisenberg and the overturning of the foundations of mathematics by Kurt Gödel, occurred within six years of each other within the narrow boundaries of German-speaking Europe. ...A study of the historical background of German intellectual life in the 1920s reveals strong links between them. Physicists and mathematicians were exposed simultaneously to external influences that pushed them along parallel paths. ...Two people who came early and strongly under the influence of Spengler's philosophy were the mathematician Hermann Weyl and the physicist Erwin Schrödinger. ...Weyle and Schrödinger agreed with Spengler that the coming revolution would sweep away the principle of physical causality. The erstwhile revolutionaries David Hilbert and Albert Einstein found themselves in the unaccustomed role of defenders of the status quo, Hilbert defending the primacy of formal logic in the foundations of mathematics, Einstein defending the primacy of causality in physics. In the short run, Hilbert and Einstein were defeated and the Spenglerian ideology of revolution triumphed, both in physics and in mathematics. Heisenberg discovered the true limits of causality in atomic processes, and Gödel discovered the limits of formal deduction and proof in mathematics. And, as often happens in the history of intellectual revolutions, the achievement of revolutionary goals destroyed the revolutionary ideology that gave them birth. The visions of Spengler, having served their purpose, rapidly became irrelevant.
  • I may as well say at once that I do not distinguish between inference and deduction. What is called induction appears to me to be either disguised deduction or a mere method of making plausible guesses.
    • Bertrand Russell, Principles of Mathematics (1903), Ch. II: Symbolic Logic, p. 11
  • Pure mathematics consists entirely of assertions to the effect that, if such and such a proposition is true of anything, then such and such another proposition is true of that thing. It is essential not to discuss whether the first proposition is really true, and not to mention what the anything is, of which it is supposed to be true. Both these points would belong to applied mathematics. We start, in pure mathematics, from certain rules of inference, by which we can infer that if one proposition is true, then so is some other proposition. These rules of inference constitute the major part of the principles of formal logic. We then take any hypothesis that seems amusing, and deduce its consequences. If our hypothesis is about anything, and not about some one or more particular things, then our deductions constitute mathematics. Thus mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true. People who have been puzzled by the beginnings of mathematics will, I hope, find comfort in this definition, and will probably agree that it is accurate.
  • The influence of geometry upon philosophy and scientific method has been profound. Geometry, as established by the Greeks, starts with axioms which are (or are deemed to be) self-evident, and proceeds, by deductive reasoning, to arrive at theorems which are very far from self-evident. The axioms and theorems are held to be true of actual space, which is something given in experience. It thus appeared to be possible to discover things about the actual world by first noticing what is self-evident and then using deduction. This view influenced Plato and Kant, and most of the intermediate philosophers. ...The eighteenth century doctrine of natural rights is a search for Euclidean axioms in politics. The form of Newton's Principia, in spite of its admittedly empirical material, is entirely dominated by Euclid. Theology, in its exact scholastic forms, takes its style from the same source.
  • The Greeks... discovered mathematics and the art of deductive reasoning. Geometry, in particular, is a Greek invention, without which modern science would have been impossible.
    • Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (1945) Book One. Ancient Philosophy, Chapter IV. Heraclitus, p. 39.
  • But in connection with mathematics the one-sidedness of the Greek genius appears: it reasoned deductively from what appeared self-evident, not inductively from what had been observed. Its amazing successes in the employment of this method misled not only the ancient world, but the greater part of the modern world also.
    • Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (1945) Book One. Ancient Philosophy, Chapter IV. Heraclitus, p. 39.
  • It has only been very slowly that scientific method, which seeks to reach principles inductively from observation of particular facts, has replaced the Hellenic belief in deduction from luminous axioms derived from the mind of the philosopher.
    • Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (1945) Book One. Ancient Philosophy, Chapter IV. Heraclitus, p. 39.
  • It seems that scientists are often attracted to beautiful theories in the way that insects are attracted to flowers — not by logical deduction, but by something like a sense of smell.

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