Of Induction by Charles Babbage

This website hosts a typeset version of Charles Babbage's chapter Of Induction from his unpublished work Essays on the Philosophy of Analysis. It has been typeset and edited by Martin Fagereng Johansen. This document has previously only been available by order as an unpublished, handwritten manuscript.

Typeset Versions of Of Induction

Please note that the typeset version of this document is not completely finalized yet. Babbage's handwriting is not always clear, and there is almost no punctuation. The versions available here is a complete version, but some of the reading and some of the inserted punctuation might not be completely accurate. Please contact me for suggestions and inputs.

Available Versions:

The Original Manuscript

A scanned version of the original manuscript is available as Sheet 56–67 in Additional MS 37202 by order from the British Library, totally 24 handwritten pages.


Charles Babbage is the inventor of the computer and the founder of computer science. Inquiring into his method of thinking should therefore be of considerable interest. In his autobiography (published in 1864), Babbage gives the following clues to his thought process and his interest in discovering the methods of invention (pp. 428-9).

"During my residence with my Oxford tutor, whilst I was working by myself on mathematics, I occasionally arrived at conclusions which appeared to me to be new, but which from time to time I afterwards found were already well known. At first I was much discouraged by these disappointments, and drew from such occurrences the inference that it was hopeless for me to attempt to invent anything new. After a time I saw the fallacy of my reasoning, and then inferred that when my knowledge became much more extended I might reasonably hope to make some small additions to my favourite science.

This idea considerably influenced my course during my residence at Cambridge by directing my reading to the original papers of the great discoverers in mathematical science. I then endeavoured to trace the course of their minds in passing from the known to the unknown, and to observe whether various artifices could not be connected together by some general law. The writings of Euler were eminently instructive for this purpose. At the period of my leaving Cambridge I began to see more distinctly the object of my future pursuit.

It appeared to me that the highest exercise of human faculties consisted in the endeavour to discover those laws of thought by which man passes from the known to that which was unknown. It might with propriety be called the philosophy of invention. During the early part of my residence in London, I commenced several essays on Induction, Generalization, Analogy, with various illustrations from different sources.

Most of the early essays I refer to were not sufficiently matured for publication, and several have appeared without any direct reference to the great object of my life."

Created 2013-11-11

Copyright © Martin Fagereng Johansen, 2013