During the scientific process, deductive reasoning is used to reach a logical true conclusion. Another type of reasoning, inductive, is also used. Often, people confuse deductive reasoning with inductive reasoning, and vice versa. It is important to learn the meaning of each type of reasoning so that proper logic can be identified.
Deductive reasoning is a basic form of valid reasoning. Deductive reasoning, or deduction, starts out with a general statement, or hypothesis, and examines the possibilities to reach a specific, logical conclusion, according to California State University. The scientific method uses deduction to test hypotheses and theories. "In deductive inference, we hold a theory and based on it we make a prediction of its consequences. That is, we predict what the observations should be if the theory were correct. We go from the general — the theory — to the specific — the observations," said Dr. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, a researcher and professor emerita at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Deductive reasoning usually follows steps. First, there is a premise, then a second premise, and finally an inference. A common form of deductive reasoning is the syllogism, in which two statements — a major premise and a minor premise — reach a logical conclusion. For example, the premise "Every A is B" could be followed by another premise, "This C is A." Those statements would lead to the conclusion "This C is B." Syllogisms are considered a good way to test deductive reasoning to make sure the argument is valid.
For example, "All men are mortal. Harold is a man. Therefore, Harold is mortal." For deductive reasoning to be sound, the hypothesis must be correct. It is assumed that the premises, "All men are mortal" and "Harold is a man" are true. Therefore, the conclusion is logical and true. In deductive reasoning, if something is true of a class of things in general, it is also true for all members of that class.
According to California State University, deductive inference conclusions are certain provided the premises are true. It's possible to come to a logical conclusion even if the generalization is not true. If the generalization is wrong, the conclusion may be logical, but it may also be untrue. For example, the argument, "All bald men are grandfathers. Harold is bald. Therefore, Harold is a grandfather," is valid logically but it is untrue because the original statement is false.
Inductive reasoning is the opposite of deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning makes broad generalizations from specific observations. Basically, there is data, then conclusions are drawn from the data. This is called inductive logic, according to Utah State University.
"In inductive inference, we go from the specific to the general. We make many observations, discern a pattern, make a generalization, and infer an explanation or a theory," Wassertheil-Smoller told Live Science. "In science, there is a constant interplay between inductive inference (based on observations) and deductive inference (based on theory), until we get closer and closer to the 'truth,' which we can only approach but not ascertain with complete certainty."
An example of inductive logic is, "The coin I pulled from the bag is a penny. That coin is a penny. A third coin from the bag is a penny. Therefore, all the coins in the bag are pennies."
Even if all of the premises are true in a statement, inductive reasoning allows for the conclusion to be false. Here's an example: "Harold is a grandfather. Harold is bald. Therefore, all grandfathers are bald." The conclusion does not follow logically from the statements.
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.
For example, a person walks into their living room and finds torn up papers all over the floor. The person's dog has been alone in the room all day. The person concludes that the dog tore up the papers because it is the most likely scenario. Now, the person's sister may have brought by his niece and she may have torn up the papers, or it may have been done by the landlord, but the dog theory is the more likely conclusion.
Abductive reasoning is useful for forming hypotheses to be tested. Abductive reasoning is often used by doctors who make a diagnosis based on test results and by jurors who make decisions based on the evidence presented to them.