File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2003/bhaskar.0304, message 18

Date: Fri, 11 Apr 2003 08:57:53 +0100
Subject: BHA:abduction

Here is some stuff on abduction that I picked up from the web:
abduction - A method of reasoning by which one infers to the best explanation. See <induction.html>, <deduction.html>.

This notion was first introduced by Peirce (CP 2.511, 623; 5.270) in an attempt to classify a certain form of syllogism. Abductive syllogisms are of the following form:
	All beans from this bag are white
These beans are white. 
Therefore, these beans are from this bag. 
This inference results in an explanation of the observation in the second premise. Though this form of reasoning is logically unsound (as the beans may be from a different source), Peirce argues that scientists regularly engage in this sort of syllogistic reasoning. Though scientific hypotheses are not valid by virtue of how they are abduced, abductive reasoning was thought to constitute a "logic of discovery" in one of Peirce's four steps of scientific investigation. These steps are:
		observation of an anomaly 
abduction of hypotheses for the purposes of explaining the anomaly 
inductive testing of the hypotheses in experiments 
deductive confirmation that the selected hypothesis predicts the original anomaly 
Abduction is not currently thought to be well understood and Peirce's formulation has been criticized as being restricted to language-like mediums (Shelley, 1996). It should be noted that for Peirce, abduction was restricted to the generation of explanatory hypotheses. The more general characterization of abduction as inference to the best explanation is a more recent interpretation.
Chris Eliasmith <mailto:chris-AT-twinearth.wustl.e
Peirce, C. (1958) Volume 2, paragraph 511, 623; Volume 5, paragraph 270. In Hartshoren and Weiss.
Levesque (1989). A knowledge level account of abduction. In Sridharan 1989 pp. 1061-1067.
Shelley, C. (1996) Visual abductive reasoning in archaeology. Philosophy of Science Association, 63. 278-301. 
Here are some quotes from Peirce himself, from

"Accepting the conclusion that an explanation is needed when facts contrary to what we should expect emerge, it follows that the explanation must be such a proposition as would lead to the prediction of the observed facts, either as necessary consequences or at least as very probable under the circumstances. A hypothesis then, has to be adopted, which is likely in itself, and renders the facts likely. This step of adopting a hypothesis as being suggested by the facts, is what I call abduction. I reckon it as a form of inference, however problematical the hypothesis may be held. What are to be the logical rules to which we are to conform in taking this step? There would be no logic in imposing rules, and saying that they ought to be followed, until it is made out that the purpose of hypothesis requires them. [---] Ultimately, the circumstance that a hypothesis, although it may lead us to expect some facts to be as they are, may in the future lead us to erroneous expectations about other facts, -- this circumstance, which anybody must have admitted as soon as it was brought home to him, was brought home to scientific men so forcibly, first in astronomy, and then in other sciences, that it became axiomatical that a hypothesis adopted by abduction could only be adopted on probation, and must be tested. ('On the Logic of drawing History from Ancient Documents especially from Testimonies', CP 7.202, 1901) 

 "The first starting of a hypothesis and the entertaining of it, whether as a simple interrogation or with any degree of confidence, is an inferential step which I propose to call abduction. This will include a preference for any one hypothesis over others which would equally explain the facts, so long as this preference is not based upon any previous knowledge bearing upon the truth of the hypotheses, nor on any testing of any of the hypotheses, after having admitted them on probation. I call all such inference by the peculiar name, abduction, because its legitimacy depends upon altogether different principles from those of other kinds of inference." ('Hume on Miracles', CP 6.524-525, 1901) 

 "A singular salad is abduction, whose chief elements are its groundlessness, its ubiquity, and its trustworthiness. [---]
      Abduction is that kind of operation which suggests a statement in no wise contained in the data from which it sets out. There is a more familiar name for it than abduction; for it is neither more nor less than guessing. A given object presents an extraordinary combination of characters of which we should like to have an explanation. That there is any explanation of them is a pure assumption; and if there be, it is some one hidden fact which explains them; while there are, perhaps, a million other possible ways of explaining them, if they were not all unfortunately, false. [---] By its very definition abduction leads to a hypothesis which is entirely foreign to the data. To assert the truth of its conclusion ever so dubiously would be too much. There is no warrant for doing more than putting it as an interrogation. To do that would seem to be innocent; yet if the interrogation means anything, it means that the hypothesis is to be tested. Now testing by experiment is a very expensive business, involving great outlay of money, time, and energy; so that comparatively few hypotheses can be tested. Thus, even the admission of an abductive conclusion to the rank of an active interrogation is a concession not to be too lightly accorded." ('The Proper Treatment of Hypotheses: a Preliminary Chapter, toward an Examination of Hume's Argument against Miracles, in its Logic and in its History' (MS 692), HP 2:898-899, 1901) 

      "Any novice in logic may well be surprised at my calling a guess an inference. It is equally easy to define inference so as to exclude or include abduction. But all the objects of logical study have to be classifled; and it is found that there is no other good class in which to put abduction but that of inferences. Many logicians, however, leave it unclassed, a sort of logical supernumerary, as if its importance were too small to entitle it to any regular place. They evidently forget that neither deduction nor induction can ever add the smallest item to the data of perception; and, as we have already noticed, mere percepts do not constitute any knowledge applicable to any practical or theoretical use. All that makes knowledge applicable comes to us viâ abduction. Looking out of my window this lovely spring morning I see an azalea in full bloom. No, no! I do not see that; though that is the only way I can describe what I see. That is a proposition, a sentence, a fact; but what I perceive is not proposition, sentence, fact, but only an image, which I make intelligible in part by means of a statement of fact. This statement is abstract; but what I see is concrete. I perform an abduction when I so much as express in a sentence anything I see. The truth is that the whole fabric of our knowledge is one matted felt of pure hypothesis confirmed and refined by induction. Not the smallest advance can be made in knowledge beyond the stage of vacant staring, without making an abduction at every step. 
      When a chicken first emerges from the shell, it does not try fifty random ways of appeasing its hunger, but within five minutes is picking up food, choosing as it picks, and picking what it aims to pick. That is not reasoning, because (it is not done deliberately; but in every respect but that), it is just like abductive inference." ('The Proper Treatment of Hypotheses: a Preliminary Chapter, toward an Examination of Hume's Argument against Miracles, in its Logic and in its History' (MS 692), HP 2:899-900, 1901) 

      "There are in science three fundamentally different kinds of reasoning, Deduction (called by Aristotle {synagögé} or {anagögé}), Induction (Aristotle's and Plato's {epagögé}) and Retroduction (Aristotle's {apagögé}, but misunderstood because of corrupt text, and as misunderstood usually translated abduction). Besides these three, Analogy (Aristotle's {paradeigma}) combines the characters of Induction and Retroduction. ('Lessons of the History of Science', CP 1.65, c. 1896) 

Dr. John Mingers
Professor of OR and Systems
 Warwick Business School
 Warwick University
 Coventry CV4 7AL UK
phone: +2476 522475
fax: +2476 524539

>>> 10 April 2003 19:55:59 >>>
Jamie, this is a helpful message for me, because I've been trying to figure
out why abduction is called a mode of inference at all. The term seems to be
used in very different ways. I can't really see how, in Danermark et al's
book, it works as a mode of inference. It seems to involve applying a theory
to a set of phenomena, or framing them within a certain model, and thus
reconceptualising them... and Danermark et al seem to recommend a repeated
process of abduction during the first stages of research. But surely
abduction in this sense is just another term for theorising or model
building? In the book Bob Carter and I are currently editing about realist
social theory and empirical research, Wendy Olsen has a chapter on
methodological triangulation, which sounded rather like abduction in
Danermark et al's account, in the sense that it raises the question of how
you judge which description or redescription is better. But when I suggested
to Wendy she might find Danermark et al's treatment of abduction useful, she
said the concept as she understood it came from phenomenology and meant
something quite different. I am left confused and unconvinced of its value.
What do others think? Caroline New

----- Original Message -----
From: Jamie Morgan <>
To: <>
Sent: Thursday, April 10, 2003 8:16 AM
Subject: BHA: Re: Research Methods Texts

> Since analytical statistical packages dominate research one would expect
> deductive and inductive methods to dominate - on a purely market driven
> basis Peirce's concept of abduction as the inference tot he best argument
> may not fit easily into systems that go from samples to populations & c.
> so far as it entails a far more explicit evaluative role it produces a
> degree of complexity that would be its own textbook - it's easier just to
> set it aside I guess.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Marshall Feldman" <>
> To: <>
> Sent: Wednesday, April 09, 2003 10:31 PM
> Subject: BHA: Research Methods Texts
> > Hi,
> >
> > I'm teaching a course on research methods and using two textbooks. One,
> > _Social Research Methods_ by Lawrence Neuman is fairly standard although
> far
> > less dogmatic than most that I've seen. The other, _Explaining Society_
> > Danermark, et al. is explicitly based in CR. At one point we covered the
> > logic of research. Neuman discusses inductive and deductive reasoning;
> > Danermark discuses both of these as well as abductive and retroductive
> > reasoning. One of the students asked what I thought was a very good
> > question. Why doesn't Neuman cover these other modes of reasoning as
> I
> > explained that Neuman is updating a text (now in its 5th edition) that
> > originally didn't have to deal with CR and there's a certain
> path-dependence
> > for the textbook that makes incorporating such concepts now very
> difficult.
> > In effect, the entire text would have to be reorganized.
> >
> > I'm not entirely satisfied with this answer. Why do you think this stuff
> > hasn't become more common in methods textbooks? Do you know of any that
> a
> > better job with this?
> >
> > Marsh Feldman
> >
> >
> >
> >      --- from list ---
> >
>      --- from list ---

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