On the origin of ideas: an abductivist approach to discovery

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


    The purpose of this study was to analyze and develop various
    forms of abduction as a means of conceptualizing processes of
    discovery. Abduction was originally presented by Charles S. Peirce
    (1839-1914) as a “weak”, third main mode of inference -- besides
    deduction and induction -- one which, he proposed, is closely
    related to many kinds of cognitive processes, such as instincts,
    perception, practices and mediated activity in general. Both
    abduction and discovery are controversial issues in philosophy of
    science. It is often claimed that discovery cannot be a proper
    subject area for conceptual analysis and, accordingly, abduction
    cannot serve as a “logic of discovery”. I argue, however, that
    abduction gives essential means for understanding processes of
    discovery although it cannot give rise to a manual or algorithm for
    making discoveries.

    In the first part of the study, I briefly present how the main
    trend in philosophy of science has, for a long time, been critical
    towards a systematic account of discovery. Various models have
    been suggested. I outline a short history of abduction; first Peirce's
    evolving forms of his theory, and then later developments.
    Although abduction has not been a major area of research until
    quite recently, I review some critiques of it and look at the ways it
    has been analyzed, developed and used in various fields of
    research. Peirce’s own writings and later developments, I argue,
    leave room for various subsequent interpretations of abduction.

    The second part of the study consists of six research articles.
    First I treat “classical” arguments against abduction as a logic of
    discovery. I show that by developing strategic aspects of abductive
    inference these arguments can be countered. Nowadays the term
    ‘abduction’ is often used as a synonym for the Inference to the Best
    Explanation (IBE) model. I argue, however, that it is useful to
    distinguish between IBE (“Harmanian abduction”) and
    “Hansonian abduction”; the latter concentrating on analyzing
    processes of discovery. The distinctions between loveliness and
    likeliness, and between potential and actual explanations are more
    fruitful within Hansonian abduction. I clarify the nature of
    abduction by using Peirce’s distinction between three areas of
    “semeiotic”: grammar, critic, and methodeutic. Grammar
    (emphasizing “Firstnesses” and iconicity) and methodeutic (i.e., a
    processual approach) especially, give new means for
    understanding abduction. Peirce himself held a controversial view
    that new abductive ideas are products of an instinct and an
    inference at the same time. I maintain that it is beneficial to make a
    clear distinction between abductive inference and abductive
    instinct, on the basis of which both can be developed further.
    Besides these, I analyze abduction as a part of distributed cognition
    which emphasizes a long-term interaction with the material, social
    and cultural environment as a source for abductive ideas. This
    approach suggests a “trialogical” model in which inquirers are
    fundamentally connected both to other inquirers and to the objects
    of inquiry. As for the classical Meno paradox about discovery, I
    show that abduction provides more than one answer. As my main
    example of abductive methodology, I analyze the process of Ignaz
    Semmelweis’ research on childbed fever.

    A central basis for abduction is the claim that discovery is not a
    sequence of events governed only by processes of chance.
    Abduction treats those processes which both constrain and
    instigate the search for new ideas; starting from the use of clues as
    a starting point for discovery, but continuing in considerations like
    elegance and 'loveliness'. The study then continues a Peircean-
    Hansonian research programme by developing abduction as a way
    of analyzing processes of discovery.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationHelsinki
    Print ISBNs952-10-3486-6
    Electronic ISBNs952-10-3487-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2006
    MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

    Note regarding dissertation

    Diss.: University of Helsinki, 2006

    Fields of Science

    • 515 Psychology
    • deduktio
    • induktio
    • päättely
    • tieteellinen ajattelu
    • tieteenfilosofia
    • pragmatismi
    • deduktion
    • induktion
    • slutledning
    • vetenskapligt tänkande
    • vetenskapsfilosofi
    • pragmatism
    • abduktio
    • keksiminen

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