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An evaluation of Charles Peirce's concept of retoduction Remnant, Peter

Abstract

Peirce's theory of retroduction, or the formation of hypotheses, describes, as a form of inference, the process of reasoning by which hypotheses to explain unexpected events are arrived at. In general, retroduction consists in the suggestion of a known class of events of which the event to be explained may possibly be a particular case. On the other hand, Peirce sometimes speaks of retroduction as positing an unobserved entity to explain observed phenomena. It has been argued, however, that this second definition of retroduction constitutes a special case of the first. The theory of retroduction is presented in two different forms, the earlier and the later, with a transition period between the two forms falling in the years from 1885 to 1900. The early theory stresses the formal structure of the retroductive form of inference, and presents retroduction and induction as parallel forms of reasoning, differing in that the former infers from observed facts other facts different from those observed, while the latter infers facts the same as those observed but of greater generality. Hypotheses and inductions are considered as of comparable stability. In the later theory retroduction originates all new ideas, in the form of suggested hypotheses, which themselves are little more than intelligent guesses, hut qualify as forms of inference in that unlike perceptions to which they are analogous they may be subjected to criticism as to their adequacy in explaining the events under question. Induction in the later theory is the process of testing hypotheses by deduction of experiential predictions from them and comparison of observed fact with those predictions. The criterion for the acceptance of hypotheses for inductive testing is purely one of economy. The validity of retroduction consists, not in any objective probability of its conclusions, but in the fact that only by retroduction can any new ideas be originated, and hence in the fact that together with inductive testing it constitutes the only method of arriving at true statements about the real world.

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