Article

Abduction and Explanatory Reasoning

Igor Douven

in Philosophy


Published online January 2019 | e-ISBN: 9780195396577 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0385

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The term “abduction” originates in the work of the American pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. Roughly, he meant it to indicate the process of searching for hypotheses guided by explanatory considerations. It thus had a place in (what later came to be called) the context of discovery. Nowadays, the term “abduction” is commonly used to refer to a type of inference which we take to be warranted on explanatory grounds, as when for instance we infer that it has been raining when we see that the streets are wet, given that it having rained is the best (although not the only possible) explanation of the streets being wet. Thus understood, abduction belongs to the so-called context of justification. In modern usage, “abduction” is typically taken to be synonymous with “Inference to the Best Explanation.” As such, it is standardly contrasted with deduction (in which the inference is warranted on the basis of form alone) and induction (in which the inference is warranted on the basis of statistical information). Abduction and induction share the feature of being ampliative, meaning that they do not guarantee the truth of the conclusion on the basis of the truth of the premises (unlike deduction); they lead to a conclusion that—one might say—goes “beyond” the premises. Philosophers have been mainly interested in the normative aspects of abduction—is it rational to infer to the best explanation, even if perhaps only under certain circumstances?—while psychologists have looked at how well the hypothesis that people reason abductively explains certain aspects of their cognitive behavior, for instance, how well that hypothesis explains some registered ways in which people tend to deviate from Bayesian norms of reasoning. For this reason, there is relevant work to be found both in the philosophical and in the psychological literature. Computer scientists, especially researchers in the field of artificial intelligence, have sought to implement abduction computationally, as part of a general attempt to develop a computational model of human reasoning, and have compared it with other inferential principles through the use of computer simulations. In philosophy, it has long been mostly philosophers of science, and to a lesser extent epistemologists, who were interested in abduction. More recently, abduction has come to be regarded as a key principle in the methodology of philosophy, with applications in a variety of areas of philosophical research.

Article.  5056 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; Epistemology ; Feminist Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Moral Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Law ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Religion ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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