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Inductive and Deductive Reasoning Explained

March 23

Logic is crucial to success in debate.  In fact, it is one of the fundamental components of persuasion.  A great first step towards understanding how to apply logic is by first recognizing that there are different kinds of reasoning one may use to support an argument or claim.  It is often challenging to distinguish between inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning.  The aim of this writing is to briefly explain the difference between the two.

Inductive reasoning is moving from something specific to something general.  This process is described as induction.  Claims or arguments based on observation of the world and experience are generally inductive.
Deductive reasoning is moving from something general to something more specific.  This process is known as deduction.  Claims or arguments grounded in laws, rules, principles, or guidelines are often deductive in nature.

To illustrate this further, let’s meet two imaginary students, Jack and Jill.  Jack says to Jill, “Hey Jill!  I’ve noticed that every time I slip and fall, I roll down the hill.  And every time you slip and fall, you roll down the hill too!  You know, Jill, I think that if anyone falls they will roll down the hill.”

Jill replies, “Of course, Jack!  That’s the law of Gravity.  All objects are attracted to more massive objects.  The earth is massive, so all objects, including you and I, will roll down a hill to the bottom.”

In this example, is Jack reasoning by induction or deduction?  Which is Jill using?

If you guessed that Jack is using inductive reasoning, you’re correct.  In this case, he is putting forward a claim based on his observations.  Jill, on the other hand, is using her understanding of principles or rules to make her argument.  Jack reasons from the specific to the general, while Jill reasons from the general to the specific.

Look and see for yourself which style of reasoning, inductive or deductive, you tend to use on a regular basis.  It’s eye-opening to see!

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