Inferences are steps in reasoning, moving from premises to logical consequences; etymologically, the word infer means to “carry forward”. Inference is theoretically traditionally divided into deduction and induction, a distinction that in Europe dates at least to Aristotle (300s BCE). Deduction is inference deriving logical conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true, with the laws of valid inference being studied in logic. Induction is inference from particular premises to a universal conclusion. A third type of inference is sometimes distinguished, notably by Charles Sanders Peirce, distinguishing abduction from induction.

Various fields study how inference is done in practice. Human inference (i.e. how humans draw conclusions) is traditionally studied within the field of cognitive psychology; artificial intelligence researchers develop automated inference systems to emulate human inference. Statistical inference uses mathematics to draw conclusions in the presence of uncertainty. This generalizes deterministic reasoning, with the absence of uncertainty as a special case. Statistical inference uses quantitative or qualitative (categorical) data which may be subject to random variations.