Post by Maarten van Reeuwijk
At the same time I realized that such myths may be developed, and
become testable; that historically speaking all - or very nearly
all - scientific theories originate from myths, and that a myth
may contain important anticipations of scientific theories.
Examples are Empedocles' theory of evolution by trial and error,
or Parmenides' myth of the unchanging block universe in which
nothing ever happens and which, if we add another dimension,
becomes Einstein's block universe (in which, too, nothing ever
happens, since everything is, four-dimensionally speaking,
determined and laid down from the beginning).
Did Popper write this before the advent of chaos theory? It is well known
these days that the future is not certain, even in a completely
deterministic setting. Many dynamical non-linear systems exhibit a
sensitive dependence on initial values, which results in a finite
prediction horizon. As initial values are intrinsically only known up to a
finite (as made quantitative by Heisenberg) accuracy, there are no
skeletons in the closet there. So even in a universe governed by
deterministic rules, the future is not certain.
...the growth of our knowledge is the result
of a process closely resembling what Darwin
called 'natural selection'; that is, the
natural selection of hypotheses...
Popper started with the old idea that knowledge grows by trial and
error, or in more learned terms, by conjecture and refutation. He
generalised this theory to encompass all forms of learning and
problem-solving, including the evolution of life on earth. On his
account every organism, from the amoeba to Einstein, is constantly
engaged in problem solving. In the plant and animal world this
involves the production of new reactions, new organs, new forms of
life. For humans it involves the production of new ideas. When these
forms of life or theories appear they confront selective pressures.
These may come from the biological environment or from competing forms
of life. Ideas meet the competition of alternative theories, critical
arguments and experimental tests.
The central motif of Popper's evolutionary epistemology is the
four-step problem-solving schema:
P ---> TS ---> EE ---> P
The starting point is a problem, which evokes tentative solutions.
These are subjected to the process of error elimination by way of
critical discussion and experimental testing. In the course of these
activities new problems emerge.
the view that culture originates and changes over time in a manner
analogous to the cumulative trial and error of biological evolution has
become increasingly popular among social scientists. As anthropologist
John Reader explains:
The farmers who founded and refined the wet-rice system and maintained
its high levels of production for centuries knew nothing of nitrogen
cycles and oxygen transportation in plants. They worked purely by trial
and error. In the process, however, they acquired a sound appreciation
of just what made the system work, and of how to keep it working.
It cannot be doubted that the Balinese farmers are successful in
cultivating rice, but is it actually the case that they "acquired a
sound appreciation of just what made the system work"? For the
traditional farmers it is observance of Dewi Sri's calendar together
with participation in the many religious activities that are
responsible for their success. Yet it can be easily shown that such
religious observances are in no way essential to obtaining continued
good rice harvests, since good harvests are obtained elsewhere in the
world where the biological requirements of the rice plant are met and
Dewi Sri and her calendar are totally unknown. So clearly a fit exists
between Balinese farmers' agricultural practices and the requirements
of the rice plant, although individual farmers may not know (and need
not know) the underlying scientific reasons for it.
Regardless of a lack of technological or scientific understanding of
rice cultivation, the society in which the rice farmer lives is
structured in such a way to ensure continuation of the farming
practices found over the centuries to be effective. By making it appear
that these practices have divine origin and guidance, it is less likely
that an individual farmer would challenge the system. So although daily
rice offerings to the gods and frequent temple ceremonies in themselves
have no direct causal link to the success of the crop, these
traditional activities are well adapted in a larger sense since they
ensure that traditional agricultural methods which have proved
effective over the centuries will continue.
Does his lack of scientific understanding mean that the traditional
Balinese farmer is in any way irrational or illogical in his adoption
of the centuries-old methods of rice cultivation? Hardly, since for him
rice cultivation and religious practices form one integrated system. It
would be well nigh impossible for him to determine which particular
aspects of his way of life are essential for obtaining continued good
harvests and which are not. Indeed, such experiments (for example,
refusing to participate in religious activities to see if this reduces
rice yield) would possibly result in the radical farmer being
ostracized from his community and make it impossible for him to obtain
the water supply on which his crop depends. Instead, there are
important advantages for individuals to adopt the agricultural and
other traditional practices of the majority of their community.
So since many aspects of traditional rice cultivation are not
individually testable, we should not be surprised to find that some of
them are not functional or are even maladapted to the requirements of
rice production. The difficulty that an individual would encounter in
attempting to analyze which aspects are actually well adapted and which
are not, save for the fact that they may play important social
functions, also argues for the rationality of accepting and observing
the total cultural package.
Because Galileo couldn't devise a frictionless circular path around the
Earth to prove his concept of inertia to be fact, he had to come up
with some other way to demonstrate that inertia was, in fact, a fact.
Half a century before Galileo was carrying on all of these ruminations,
a practical trial and error advocate named Tartaglia had gone out onto
the proving grounds and shot off cannonballs at different angles in
order to come up with the angle that would cause the cannonball to
travel the furthest distance. After much banging around, he determined
that the optimum angle was forty-five degrees.
Galileo allowed the balls that had rolled down the inclined plane to
roll off the end of his workbench and measured the same angle, at
forty-five degrees, the inclined plane produced the maximum trajectory.
He then said he had, in the confines of his study, by mathematics
alone, proven that which was proven by trial and error on the proving
grounds. It was acceptable procedure, then, to use mathematics to prove
facts that were not capable of being directly measured.
Of course, Tartaglia had actually shot real cannonballs out of real
cannons to produce real measurements. By duplicating the facts in his
study, Galileo had not proven a fact that was not capable of direct
measurement, he had just measured the same fact in a different way,
measuring real balls that had rolled down a real inclined plane rolling
off the end of a real workbench.
He hadn't proven anything let alone a concept, inertia, to be a fact.
Concepts about factual relationships can be demonstrated by measurement
to be fact.
Concepts, however, can never be proven to be facts
On Popper's account, the central problem of moral and political
philosophy is to formulate and criticise standards which act as 'rules
of the game' in social life. These rules of the game occur in all
groups and they may be enforced informally or by due process of law.
The question we have to face is not whether we will have rules but
whether we will try to improve them by critical discussion and trial
and error. This approach cuts through the verbalism that bogs down
academic discussions of moral and politics and it is constantly in
touch with practical problems and their possible solutions.
This volume adds weight to Bartley's claim that Popper is on the
right track but has not received due credit because his ideas have
suffered from misreading and other mishaps. In Logik der Forschung
(1934) Popper challenged the theory that scientific knowledge grows by
a process of induction from accumulated observations. He advanced a
theory of conjectural objective knowledge that grows by trial and
error, controlled by criticism and by empirical tests. He also
presented the now-famous falsification criterion for the demarcation of
scientific statements from those of metaphysics and pseudoscience. This
criterion was widely criticised as an attempt to solve a completely
different problem, namely to define meaningful statements. This
misreading obscured his achievement for some decades and books are
still being written about the logical positivists (called logical
empiricists in the US) without mention of Popper. In the 1930s he wrote
a series of papers to refute various theories that contributed to the
collapse of civilisation in the holocaust. Mind, the most prestigious
organ of analytical philosophy, did not accept them. Eventually they
appeared in the journal Economica and later in book form as The Poverty
of Historicism (1957).
...During this process, the individual learner attempts a trial
solution. The learning processes is trial and error for which the
learner is responsible.
This is an evolutionary epistemology. Creation and elimination (or
modification) works hand in hand. Problem formulation takes precedence
over observation and there is an emphasis on the value of refutation
and the falsification of theories. Hence the development of critical
thinking, a dialectical process of continuous reflection and the
testing of current assumptions to extend understanding is vital. Popper
recognises that criticism by experimental testing, the consideration of
other peoples argument, reason and compromise, the deduction of
consequences and the emphasis on the fallibility of science are
important components in. the objectification of knowledge. These are
key strategies in the critical rationalist methodology and might become
more firmly embedded in the ecological curriculum.
The fallibilist conception of ecological theories and knowledge
requires teachers to encourage students to develop the appropriate
traits, attitudes and dispositions to begin the essential process of
critical thinking. Students of ecology, as well as the scientists
themselves, need to refine these skills, construct, identify, analyze
and evaluate arguments, rather than to accept too readily dogmatic
[conjecture and refutation (trial & error)]
...Some of this confusion [about education] arises from the clash to
two antagonistic notions of scientific activity which may be called the
romantic and the rational or the poetic and the analytical. This clash
involves the opposition of activities which are in fact complementary
and it is resolved by the mode of thought which travels under the
unfortunately cumbersome title of the 'hypothetico-deductive' model of
scientific activity. Popper has called this the method of conjecture
and refutation, a high-falutin' name attached to the old-fashioned
method of trial and error. This is not entirely original and it can be
traced in the work of thinkers such as Whewell, Peirce and the French
physiologist Bernard. The leading modern exponent is Popper who has
added some wrinkles of his own, notably in rejecting 'justified belief'
as the terminus of scientific or philosophical activity.
It can be very difficult to understand philosophical ideas without
understanding the problem that the ideas were supposed to solve. Often
these problems arise outside philosophy itself, in science, religion,
politics, art etc. Popper's first major problem was 'When should a
theory be ranked as scientific?' or 'Is there a criterion for the
scientific status of a theory?'
We can understand how this arose by a study of Popper's biography. He
was born in 1902 and he grew up in Vienna with the air full of the
exciting ideas of Freud, Adler and Marx. These men formulated
impressive schemes that appeared to explain anything and everything
that happened. There was an explanation for everything, albeit
different explanations. It seemed that nothing could contradict them
and in this respect Popper noted that Einstein had a very different
attitude to his equally revolutionary theory. This was put to the test
by Edington's eclipse observations in 1919 and Einstein had announced
that a negative result would suggest a need to reconsider his theory.
In this way Einstein provided Popper with the hint for his
falsification criterion for science. This scenario provides a rational
explanation for Popper's motivation in formulating his criterion,
unlike the suggestion that he embraced falsificationism in the reckless
and irrational spirit of the Jazz Age.
=== The Line of Demarcation ===
A statement may be considered to be scientific if it is conceivable
that publicly available evidence maybe produced to show that it is
false. In other words we have to be able to look for some kind of
evidence that would clash with our statement or our theory. For example
the statement "There are no students in the library" can be refuted by
the discovery of a student in the library. Similarly, the laws of
science, formulated in universal terms along the lines 'All ravens are
black' can be refuted by the discovery of a white raven. The point is,
to make progress we need to locate weak spots in our theories in order
to stimulate the production of new ideas. This means we have to take
the risk of being wrong by making assertions that can be checked
The criterion of testability is not a criterion of truth, meaning or
even of importance, and it shows that we should not take the word
'science' too seriously. On the science side of the line we have
descriptive statements which say something about the world. They may be
true or false and they may be refuted by evidence. They may also be
supported by evidence but this is a great deal more problematic because
for some theories, everything that happens counts as supporting
evidence (as Popper found with the followers of Marx and Freud).
On the 'non-science' side of the line are several categories of
statements, among them the statements of pseudosciences such as
astrology, which claim to be based on evidence but can never be
refuted; the 'ought' statements of morals and ethics; theories of
method (such as the falsification criterion); and also, incidentally,
Some more needs to be said about morals, values, ethics and political
ideals. These can be formulated as proposals for various kinds of
behaviour or action. In this way they can be contrasted with
propositions which state matters of fact (this is the language used by
Popper in Chapter 5 of The Open Society and its Enemies). We may argue
about the truth or falsity of propositions but we cannot claim that
proposals are true or false. Our acceptance or rejection of proposals
is a matter of decision, though matters of fact (and hence
considerations of truth and falsity) will arise in considering the
consequences. The element of decision in relation to moral 'oughts' and
political proposals has been interpreted to mean that these decisions
are irrational or arbitrary, as indeed they may be, especially if they
are made under the influence of a theory that these matters cannot be
subjected to reasonable discussion. As indicated in Critical Preference
in Science and Ethics we can critically examine alternative moral or
political codes and we can form critical preferences that can be
modified in the light of evidence and new arguments.
Attempts to derive values from facts cannot be achieved logically,
though there have been many efforts to do so in the belief that such a
derivation would produce rational or scientific ethics. This was
considered to be a defence against unreason at a time when rationality
was supposed to apply in science but not on the other side of the line
of demarcation, for example in religion, morals and aesthetics.
However, attempts to provide a 'positive' basis for morals are likely
to lead to dogmatism, quite likely linked to conservatism by appealing
to the official or prevailing laws or morals at the time.
Popper's line of demarcation should affect the way the way we look at
science in relation to other subjects because it cuts across the bounds
that are supposed to exist between 'the sciences' and 'the rest'.
Statements in any subject such as history or literary criticism may be
considered to be scientific if they can be supported or refuted by
evidence. The convention applies to statements, not to areas of
It should not matter how a student defines the subject, because it is
very much more important to be clear about the problem that is being
investigated. A serious attempt to work on a problem should drive the
student into a whole range of subjects or disciplines, thereby making
nonsense of the narrow definition of subjects and over-specialisation.
Too much focus on subjects and examinations can make the problems and
themes invisible, but problems and themes should provide the backbone
and the organising principles amidst the mass of information that
confronts the student and the researcher.
If we lost sight of genuine problems, or never find them, it is
virtually impossible to contribute to the growth of knowledge. This
brings us to another philosophical problem - how does our knowledge
grow? Popper has suggested that our knowledge grows as a result of our
attempts to solve problems by trial and error, a process that he has
compared with the evolution of life on earth. If we are going to talk
about the growth of knowledge, we seem to imply that there is something
to grow towards, presumably the truth. But how does this come about,
and what is the truth?
...The advance of science is not due to the fact that more and more
perceptual experiences accumulate in the course of time. Nor is it due
to the fact that we are making ever better use of our senses...Bold
ideas, unjustified anticipations, and speculative thought, are our only
means for interpreting nature, our only instruments for grasping her,
and we must hazard them to win our prize.
A fierce battle has raged over the problem of induction which is
closely related to the matter of the line of demarcation because it is
sometimes suggested that the criterion of science is its inductive, or
maybe its experimental method, as against the speculative or creative
or expressionistic method of the arts, the intuitive method of
psychology, the sociological imagination, the historical method etc.
Everything depends on what is meant by induction, and if it is used to
mean the guess or the imaginative leap, then this does not distinguish
science from any other activity that involves thinking. However it
usually refers to a methodical or logical process for proceeding from
the particular to the general, or from the observation of facts to the
formulation of laws. This type of induction is not logically or
psychologically defensible and it cannot be retrieved by the use of the
probability calculus to assign numerical probabilities to theories.
=== Conclusions ===
Scientific knowledge is capable of growing by the detection and
correction or error, though its growth can never be completed. It does
not grow in a disciplined, orderly or predictable way, but rather by
unjustified leaps of imagination, controlled by the use of logic,
critical analysis and experimental tests.
Our knowledge in a given field does not consist of a mass of facts or a
set of verified laws, it consists of a body of hypotheses along with an
account of the tests and other arguments that have been used in
attempts to refute them. There is no opposition between imagination and
reason because they have different (and complementary) roles to play.
There is no antagonism between theorising and fact finding provided
that we have a clearly formulated problem in mind when we start looking
This theory of knowledge has some political implications. The
positivist-empiricist-inductivist may have thought that he did not need
to actively make decisions about his subject matter. The task of the
scientist was to collect and collate information to steadily record the
tale told by the book of nature. However, this idea of the passive
observer-collector cannot be sustained. If the scientist wants to
advance the frontier of knowledge, even to the smallest degree that the
average honours student should aspire to achieve, he has to make an
effort and bring into action both the imagination and the critical
faculties. There is also the consideration that the findings are quite
likely to be used and the scientist (or at least the community of
scientists) is morally responsible for warning of potential dangers and
monitoring any dubious applications.
Scientists can only approach the truth by conjectures and by critical
tests, and if they accept their social responsibilities they will carry
their critical attitude out of the laboratory, to participate, like
everyone else, in a continuous process of non-violent cultural
At the same time I realized that such myths may be developed, and
become testable; that historically speaking all-or very nearly
all-scientific theories originate from myths, and that a myth may
contain important anticipations of scientific theories. Examples are
Empedocles' theory of evolution by trial and error, or Parmenides' myth
of the unchanging block universe in which nothing ever happens and
which, if we add another dimension, becomes Einstein's block universe
(in which, too, nothing ever happens, since everything is, four
dimensionally speaking, determined and laid down from the beginning). I
thus felt that if a theory is found to be non-scientific, or
"metaphysical" (as we might say), it is not thereby found to be
unimportant, or insignificant, or "meaningless," or "nonsensical." it
cannot claim to be backed by empirical evidence in the scientific
sense-although it may easily be, in some genetic sense, the "result of
Popper, too, locates the beginning of science in the advent of an
attitude, the appearance of the "critical" beside the "dogmatic." These
are for him psychological, not historical, categories, which are not
distinguished by means of their products or world-views. The dogmatic
attitude, "an uncontrolled wish to impose regularities" upon the world,
is succeeded by the critical attitude, "which shares with the dogmatic
attitude the quick adoption of a schema of expectations- a myth,
perhaps, or a conjecture or hypothesis- but which is ready to modify
it, to correct it, and even to give it up." (6) Popper's scientist is
not entirely removed from praxis, but takes a different attitude to his
products and experiences. For example, he writes, "The method of trial
and error is applied not only to Einstein, but, in a more dogmatic
fashion, by the amoeba also. The difference lies not so much in the
trials as in a critical and constructive attitude towards errors... ."
In the essay "Science: Conjectures and Refutations," Popper describes
his distinction as belonging to the psychology of experience, (8) while
Husserl describes his as the "genuine" history of philosophy, but in
spite of this, each ends up describing his respective "attitudes" in
both historical and psychological, or subjectivistic terms. Popper,
despite his initial psychological description, credits the Greeks with
the "discovery of the critical method," indicating that the adoption of
the critical attitude by the human psyche took place at a specific
point in history, namely with the Presocratics. (9) Husserl, in turn,
while being primarily concerned with historical description of the
origin of science among the Presocratics, ends up ascribing
"prescientific" properties to the minds of children, while scientific
rationality is the mark of a mature mind. (10) For Popper, the
prescientific attitude is "characteristic of primitives and children;
and increasing experience and maturity sometimes create an attitude of
caution and criticism rather than of dogmatism." (11) In both
investigations into the origins of science, the scientific attitude
ends up in the hands of members of a certain society at a certain point
in history, members who have certain psychological characteristics,
which make them relate to their surroundings in an entirely novel way.
Popper credits Thales, the first scientist, with the institution of the
critical attitude, which is "the attitude of reasonableness, of
rationality." Husserl marks with Thales, the first philosopher, the
advent of "a new humanity"-perhaps a more dramatic description than
Popper's, but one which results from the same sentiment: Thales, or
rather what he represents, is the beginning of the rationality, the
very humanity, we take to be proper to us today. (12)
Popper's opposition to inductivism is well known. He repeatedly
insisted that there can be no successful algorithm for
theory-formation. Popper likened the position of the theorist to the
situation of a blind man who searches in a dark room for a black hat
which is--perhaps--not there. (15)
The theorist, like the blind man, proceeds by trial-and-error, coming
to learn where the hat is not, without ever reaching a certainty immune
from rejection in the force of further experience.
Popper is correct to emphasize the role of creative imagination in the
formulation of scientific hypotheses. The problem-situation does not
dictate a solution to the theorist. However, neither are hypotheses
formulated independently of the problem-situation. Popper's "black-hat
image" is quite misleading. Scientific conjectures are "blind" only in
the sense that the outcome of subsequent testing is unknown. They are
not "blind" in Campbell's sense of being "independent of the
environmental conditions of the occasion of their occurrence".
Post by Maarten van Reeuwijk
even though it requires an unchanging universe, we, in fact, observe
change in nature.
Science is not about an unchanging universe, but about the things that
remain *invariant* under change. Einstein's theory of relativity is an
excellent example of this. To my knowledge, it has *never* been falsified
up till now.
"Inference to the Best Explanation" is a popular slogan in
philosophy these days. (Note: It was partially anticipated by N.R.
Hanson in Patterns of Discovery. He called it 'abduction'.) It's
a seductive phrase, for who so base in matters cognitive as to confess
he will be happy with a poor explanation? But the "inference to the
best explanation" slogan is only going to be helpful if accompanied
by some account of how we can identify what the best explanation
actually is, and supplying that seems a tough task. Of course, in one
sense we are all going to agree that we should accept the best
explanation, if only we can find out what it is - since presumably
nothing could be the best explanation of anything unless it was true.
Yet the whole point of inferring to the best explanation is to find the
"Likeliness" or "Loveliness"
The 'best' explanation might be the best confirmed/likeliest
explanation or the deepest/most pleasing explanation. Since IBE is
supposed to be giving an account of support of explanatory hypotheses
by evidence, inference to the likeliest explanation would appear to
trivialize IBE - we would need an independent account of what made
an explanatory hypothesis likely. It would seem, then, that the
'best' explanation must be the one that does the explaining in the
best way - e.g., by being simple and economical.
abduction - A method of reasoning by which one infers to the best
explanation. See induction, deduction.
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
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.
The philosophical notions introduced by Charles Sanders Peirce
(1839-1914) are helpful for researchers in understanding the nature of
knowledge and reality. In Peircean logical system, the logic of
abduction and deduction contribute to our conceptual understanding of a
phenomenon, while the logic of induction adds quantitative details to
our conceptual knowledge. Although Peirce justified the validity of
induction as a self-corrective process, he asserted that neither
induction nor deduction can help us to unveil the internal structure of
meaning. As exploratory data analysis performs the function as a model
builder for confirmatory data analysis, abduction plays a role of
explorer of viable paths to further inquiry. Thus, the logic of
abduction fits well into exploratory data analysis. At the stage of
abduction, the goal is to explore the data, find a pattern, and suggest
a plausible hypothesis; deduction is to refine the hypothesis based
upon other plausible premises; and induction is the empirical
Abduction is not symbolic logic but critical thinking
Abduction is to look for a pattern in a phenomenon and suggest a
hypothesis (Peirce, 1878a). Despite the long history of abduction,
abduction is still unpopular among texts of logic and research
methodology, which emphasize formal logic. Logic is divided into formal
types of reasoning (symbolic logic) and informal types (critical
thinking). Unlike deduction and induction, abduction is a type of
critical thinking rather than symbolic logic, though in the following
example abduction is illustrated with symbols for simplification:
The surprising phenomenon, X, is observed.
Among hypotheses A, B, and C, A is capable of explaining X.
Hence, there is a reason to pursue A.
Abduction is not Popperian falsification but hypothesis generationis
This process of inquiry can be well applied to exploratory data
analysis. In exploratory data analysis, after observing some surprising
facts, we exploit them and check the predicted values against the
observed values and residuals. Although there may be more than one
convincing patterns, we "abduct" only those which are more plausible.
In other words, exploratory data analysis is not trying out everything.
Rescher (1978) interpreted abduction as an opposition to Popper's
falsification (1963). There are millions of possible explanations to a
phenomenon. Due to the economy of research, we cannot afford to falsify
every possibility. As mentioned before, we don't have to know
everything to know something. By the same token, we don't have to
screen every false thing to dig out the authentic one. Peirce argued
that animals have the instinct to do the right things without
struggling, we humans, as a kind of animal, also have the innate
ability to make the right decision intuitively.
Abduction is not hasty judgment but proper categorizationis
It is dangerous to look at abduction as impulsive thinking and hasty
judgment. In the essay "The Fixation of Belief," Peirce explicitly
disregarded the tenacity of intuition as the source of knowledge. Also,
exploratory data analysis, as an application of abduction, is not a
permit for the analyst to be naive to other research related to the
investigated phenomena (Anthony, 1994). Peirce strongly criticized his
contemporaries' confusion of propositions and assertions. Propositions
can be affirmed or denied while assertions are final judgments
(Hilpinen, 1992). The objective of abduction is to determine which
hypothesis or proposition to test, not which one to adopt or assert
For Peirce, progress in science depends on the observation of the right
facts by minds furnished with appropriate ideas (Tursman, 1987).
Definitely, the intuitive judgment made by an intellectual is different
from that made by a high school student. Peirce cited several examples
of remarkable correct guesses. All success is not simply lucky.
Instead, the opportunity was taken by the people who were prepared:
a). Bacon's guess that heat was a mode of motion;
b). Young's guess that the primary colors were violet, green and red;
c). Dalton's guess that there were chemical atoms before the invention
of microscope (cited in Tursman, 1987).
Peirce stated that classification plays a major role in making
hypothesis, that is the characters of phenomenon are placed into
certain categories (Peirce, 1878b). As mentioned before, the Peircean
view of knowledge is continuous rather than revolutionary. Abduction
does not attempt to overthrow previous paradigms, frameworks and
categories. Instead, the continuity and generality of knowledge makes
intuition possible and plausible.
Peirce was an admirer of Kant. He endorsed Kant's categories in
Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1969) to help us to make judgments of the
1. quantity (universal, particular, singular);
2. quality (affirmative, negative, infinite);
3. relation (categorical, hypothetical, disjunctive);
4. modality (problematic, assertoric, apodeictic).
Also, Peirce agreed with Kant that things have internal structure of
meaning. Abductive activities are not empirical hypotheses based on our
sensory experience, but rather the very structure of the meanings
themselves (Rosenthal, 1993). Based on the Kantian framework, Peirce
(1867/1960) later developed his "New list of categories."
In short, abduction by intuition, can be interpreted as observing the
world with appropriate categories which arise from the internal
structure of meanings. The implications of abduction for researchers is
that the use of exploratory data analysis is neither exhausting all
possibilities nor making hasty decisions. Researchers must be
well-equipped with proper categories in order to sort out the invariant
features and patterns of phenomena. The statistical method, in this
sense, is not only number crunching, but also a thoughtful way of
...Nonetheless, for Peirce induction still has validity. Contrary to
Hume's notion that our perception of events are devoid of generality,
Peirce argued that the existence we perceive must share generality with
other things in existence. Peirce's metaphysical system resolves the
problem of induction by asserting that the data from our perception are
not reducible to discrete, logically and ontologically independent
events (Sullivan, 1991). In addition, for Peirce all empirical
reasoning is essentially making inferences from a sample to a
population; the conclusion is "merely probably (never certainly) true"
and "merely approximately (never exactly) true" (O'Neill, 1993).
Forster (1993) justified this view with the Law of Large Numbers. On
one hand, we don't know the real probability due to our finite
existence. However, given a large number of cases, we can approximate
the actual probability. We don't have to know everything to know
something. Also, we don't have to know every case to get an
approximation. This approximation is sufficient to fix our beliefs and
lead us to further inquiry.
In summary, both deduction and induction have different merits and
shortcomings. For Peirce a reasoner should apply abduction, deduction
and induction altogether in order to achieve a comprehensive inquiry.
Abduction and deduction are the conceptual understanding of a
phenomena, and induction is the quantitative verification. At the stage
of abduction, the goal is to explore the data, find out a pattern, and
suggest a plausible hypothesis with the use of proper categories;
deduction is to build a logical and testable hypothesis based upon
other plausible premises; and induction is the approximation towards
the truth in order to fix our beliefs for further inquiry. In short,
abduction creates, deduction explicates, and induction verifies.
If that stuff waz interesting you might want to read more in the large
1 Nature of scientific statements and concepts
1.2 Scientific realism
1.4 Social Constructivism
2 The Justification of Scientific Statements
Abduction versus Inference to the Best Explanation - How to Analyze
Processes of Discovery?
Post by Maarten van Reeuwijk
.... well, except for 10 claims in sci.physics every day of course :-).
Maarten van Reeuwijk dept. of Multiscale Physics
Phd student Faculty of Applied Sciences
maarten.ws.tn.tudelft.nl Delft University of Technology