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For those who aren't familiar http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abductive_reasoning The originating philosopher is Charles Sanders Pierce (pragmatist I know).

In contrast to deduction or induction, abduction is described as a tool of hypothesis generation describing what might be true.

"The surprising fact, C, is observed; But if A were true, C would be a matter of course, Hence, there is reason to suspect that A is true."

It is rightly described as guesswork but where does it fit if at all in the process? It seems common sense that generating a potential explanation out of many potential ones is a necessary part of processes such as the scientific method.

asked Feb 17 '12 at 12:07

Taylor%20O's gravatar image

Taylor O


The world exists. If it had a creator, then the world would indeed exist. Hence, a creator probably exists. or: The sky hasn't fallen on our heads. If it were supported by a turtle in the sky, it would indeed not fall on our heads. Hence, there is reason to suspect there is a turtle holding the sky up.

That's simply indulgence of the arbitrary. The question is how you come to the idea that "if A were true, C would follow". You have to have some kind of inductive evidence to support such an assumption in the first place. But that puts you right back into inductive/deductive reasoning.

(Feb 18 '12 at 09:34) FCH FCH's gravatar image

Furthermore, this sort of "reasoning" is self-admittedly "guessing" (see Wikipedia). But this throws out from the start the possiblity of certainty. If not certainty, what, then, can possibly be the purpose of an epistemological method?

Actually, I think you may have just helped me figure out the epistemological foundation of pragmatism.

(Feb 18 '12 at 12:19) FCH FCH's gravatar image

There is little that I can add to the excellent comments so far by FCH (as of the date of this posting). If so-called "abductive reasoning" is offered as a form of "reasoning," like induction or deduction, then FCH (and even the questioner) are absolutely correct: it's not. In fact, the Wikipedia article mentions the logical fallacy of "re-affirming the consequent," the fallacy of concluding that P logically must be true if P implies Q and Q is true. Maybe R implies Q, too, and R is true while P is false.

Still, I can see a place for a process essentially similar to "abduction" in the very earliest stages of induction. You have a chaotic mass of concrete data from observations, and you're trying to make sense of it -- you're trying to integrate it into something more coherent. What are some possible explanations implied by the data? One can't claim to have achieved a full integration if one's suspected explanation doesn't quite fit all of the available data, but the tentative potential explanation may nevertheless help you to find the right path to an eventually valid solution. (It may also turn out to be a totally wrong dead end. You won't know until you investigate and theorize further.)

answered Feb 19 '12 at 15:17

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

Thank you!

I would just add that even in the primitive stage of reasoning where you ARE still guessing, you still need to base your guesses on some kind of inductive evidence that there is a causal connection. The examples I gave are exactly instances where that part is missing. Thus, proper examples are not completely arbitrary, and emphatically NOT divorced from induction and deduction.

(Feb 19 '12 at 18:53) FCH FCH's gravatar image

Yes, I think this is more of what I was thinking. It doesn't appear to be offered as an alternative to induction or deduction but as a tool to generate potential hypotheses to test when current explanations fail. Of course, testing is still necessary. Given the evidence, what could be possible? And use this as a starting point.

(Feb 20 '12 at 20:45) Taylor O Taylor%20O's gravatar image

I just still would like to stress that there is absolutely no way of coming up even with a good guess other than induction/deduction. What we are talking about now is a step in that process, which can't be logically separated from it. What the theory of "abductive reasoning" talks about is an entirely separate process (I won't say the theory claims it to be a valid process, because such a theory is intended precisely to undermine the concept of validity.)

(Feb 21 '12 at 13:31) FCH FCH's gravatar image
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Asked: Feb 17 '12 at 12:07

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Last updated: Feb 21 '12 at 13:32