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Abduction

 

Disciplines Argument > Types of reasoning > Abduction

Description | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Description

A is observed. If B were true, then A would be true. Therefore B may be true.

Abductive reasoning, or abduction, is the process of explaining something that is experienced or observed in some way and where there is no existing knowledge to explain the phenomenon. It creates a hypothesis that may or may not be true and which may require further work to verify.

Example

A doctor, meeting a set of symptoms not met before, considers diseases that have similar symptoms and wonders if the presented condition is something similar.

A detective homes in on what seem to be important clues to a crime.

Discussion

Abduction was defined by semiotician Charles Peirce who defined it as 'the process of forming an explanatory hypothesis'. This is in contrast to inductive development of theories and deductive testing of theories.

The process of abduction may well have a significant subconscious element, for example where an expert draws on tacit knowledge to explain a new phenomenon. Nobel Prize-winner Henri Poincaré said ‘It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover.’

The principle of abduction aligns with the Constructionist view of the world. Shank (1998) suggests abandoning the pursuit of detail, preferring the development of 'craft skills' in abduction, through deliberately seeking surprise and the 'residue of the unexplained' in anomalies, inconsistencies and incongruities.

Abductive reasoning may be a key skill in the paradigmatic process described by scientific historian Thomas Kuhn.

See also

Inductive reasoning, Deductive reasoning

 

Kuhn, T. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd edition), Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Shank, G. (1998). The extraordinary powers of abductive reasoning. Theory and Psychology, 8, 6, 841-60

 

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