From ugly duckling to Swan: C. S. Peirce, abduction, and the pursuit of scientific theories

Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 44 (3):pp. 446-468 (2008)
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Jaakko Hintikka (1998) has argued that clarifying the notion of abduction is the fundamental problem of contemporary epistemology. One traditional interpretation of Peirce on abduction sees it as a recipe for generating new theoretical discoveries . A second standard view sees abduction as a mode of reasoning that justifies beliefs about the probable truth of theories. While each reading has some grounding in Peirce's writings, each leaves out features that are crucial to Peirce's distinctive understanding of abduction. I develop and defend a third interpretation, according to which Peirce takes abductive reasoning to lead to judgments about the relative pursuitworthiness of theories; conclusions that can be thoroughly disconnected from assessments of truth-value. Even if Peirce's use of "abduction" slides around among each of these three importantly different though potentially compatible senses, this neglected third understanding makes sense of a large number of Peirce's remarks and directs our attention to the cognitive structure of judgments that scientists face after the initial proposal of explanatory hypotheses but prior to their experimental testing; a topic which should be of interest to contemporary philosophers of science.



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