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Defending Abduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2022

Ilkka Niiniluoto*
University of Helsinki
Department of Philosophy, P.O. Box 24, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland; e-mail:


Charles S. Peirce argued that, besides deduction and induction, there is a third mode of inference which he called “hypothesis” or “abduction.” He characterized abduction as reasoning “from effect to cause,” and as “the operation of adopting an explanatory hypothesis.” Peirce's ideas about abduction, which are related also to historically earlier accounts of heuristic reasoning (the method of analysis), have been seen as providing a logic of scientific discovery. Alternatively, abduction is interpreted as giving reasons for pursuing a hypothesis. Inference to the best explanation (IBE) has also been regarded as an important mode of justification, both in everyday life, detective stories, and science. In particular, scientific realism has been defended by an abductive nomiracle argument (Smart, Putnam, Boyd), while the critics of realism have attempted to show that this appeal to abduction is question-begging, circular, or incoherent (Fine, Laudan, van Fraassen). This paper approaches these issues by distinguishing weaker and stronger forms of abduction, and by showing how these types of inferences can be given Peircean and Bayesian probabilistic reconstructions.

Explanation, Confirmation, and Scientific Inference
Copyright © 1999 by the Philosophy of Science Association

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