Peirce and the continuum of means and ends
It may seem obvious that, before we can begin to verify a hypothesis, we must somehow "acquire" one. Yet, until Peirce began working on his theory of abduction, little thought had been given to the issue of hypothesis acquisition and its everyday equivalent‹goal acquisition. Even today, most people seem satisfied with the idea that goals and hypotheses arise "somehow," and that the primary purpose of scientific inquiry is to verify a hypothesis; and, of ordinary life, to achieve goals. The idea of a normative method by which hypotheses should be formed (abduction) belongs to Peirce. Here we will be loosely applying the mental construct of John Dewey¹s "means-end continuum" as a heuristic device for explaining the differing ways in which hypotheses (as well as goals and purposes) can be constructed‹and the way in which, according to Peirce, they "should be" constructed. Dewey¹s means-end continuum enables demonstration of the differences between goal-directed and means-directed hypothesis construction. The following discussion will be addressing the aspect of goal-acquisition habits in everyday life (an aspect of logica utens), and of hypothesis construction in formal logic (abduction in logica docens) in terms of the ways in which these relate to means-directed and goal-directed processes.
Key words: continuity, goals, abduction, logica utens, fallibilism, retroduction
It is sometimes said that the highest philosophical gift is to invent important new philosophical problems. If so, Peirce is a major star in the firmament of philosophy. By thrusting the notion of abduction to the forefront of philosophers consciousness he created a problem which, I will argue, is the central one in contemporary epistemology.
Nearly a century now since Peirces death, philosophers still argue the form and meaning of Peirces theory of abduction. They will argue that Peirce, himself, made contradictory statements about the nature of abduction.
Perhaps one factor contributing to the ongoing confusion about Peirces theory of abduction is the fact that "reasoning" is usually thought of as operating in two ways:
But abduction is very different from either deduction or induction. Unlike deduction, abduction is a means-directed inference-making process--which is to say that in abductive reasoning, the means (surprising facts, anomalies, materials, problems, unanswered questions, mistakes, etc.) guide the formation of purpose, rather than a purpose guiding the selection of means for its achievement. Unlike induction (which also begins with an encounter with meansor examples), abduction results in a hypothesis (or guess) and not in a conclusion, probability, or generalization as induction does.
Since working out how to "adapt" means to ends (deduction) and compiling examples which eventually lead to a generalization (induction) are generally accepted as basic functions of reasoning, some may feel that even bothering to discuss the concept of "means-directed ends" is unnecessary. However, since Peirce insisted upon the primacy of abduction in directing all reasoning, understanding his intent for the meaning of abductive inference is vital for understanding his pragmatism. For this reason, we will "borrow" the concept of a means-end continuum from John Dewey and use it as a heuristic tool for explaining abduction, deduction, and induction as each relates to the formation of goals and purposes.
TYPES OF INFERENCE FORMS
In logic, Peirce tells us, abduction proceeds from a "surprising," or anomalous fact (a consequent) to a guess (or hypothesis) about what might have caused that fact to occur (an antecedent). Thus, abduction is "means-driven" in the sense that the consequent (anomaly) drives the formation of a possible reason (antecedent) for that consequent to have occurred. Peirce warns that, in science and logic, abductive inferences cannot stand alone. He tells us that abduction "does not afford security. The hypothesis must be tested." However, abductive reasoning can be applied to other activities besides hypothesis development . For example, an artist can develop original work by encountering an interesting piece of material (a consequent) and placing it into juxtaposition with other materials to develop hypothetical or tentative relationships among them. (The antecedent aspect of the artists process resides somewhere in the continuum of existent possibilities that have not yet been unfolded). However, at the end of a means-directed process (after making a web-like series of interrelationships), the artist may have a finished original work of art, while the scientist will only have a hypothesis in need of explication and testing.
Deduction, according to Peirce, has two parts: explication and demonstration. The purpose of explication is to define the hypothesis in all its categories and elementsto "render it as distinct as possible." Demonstration "invariably requires something in the nature of a diagram." Diagrams make use of signs and can include icons (representation by resemblance); indices (signs that indicate, or are actually connected to, something); and symbols (signs that represent objects "because they will be so interpreted"). Deduction is the inference form for which a conclusion necessarily follows from a premise (or set of premises)proceeding from antecedent (that which comes before) to consequent (or result). In scientific reasoning, deduction is performed as "analysis," for which reasoning moves from the general (as a principle or hypothesis)to the less general (as categories such as "genus," part-whole relationships, and operational predictionsto the specific (as examples, or "specimens").
Propositions of any kind are explications in the form of proposals for demonstrating something that is to occur in the future. As such, propositions are types of goalsor proposed ends (outcomes). For example, a recipe is a kind of proposition, which when followed correctly, should produce a certain outcome. Building plans (whether of an original design or reflecting homes that have already been mass-produced) are also propositions of this same sort. One purpose of deductive reasoning as analysis is to pre-plan the methods and prepare the materials required for reaching (or verifying) the conclusion which the proposition predicts.
Induction, on the other hand, proceeds from example (consequent) to a conclusion (or generalization) based upon enumeration or evaluation. Crude induction (simple enumeration) is, according to Peirce, the weakest form of argument. Gradual induction "which makes a new estimate of the proportion of truth in the hypothesis in every instance," can be either "qualitative" or quantitative." This latter sort of induction, says Peirce, can lead to the elimination of falsityin other words, "truth." Since inductive reasoning is evaluative (rather than generative, as is abduction) it relies upon a direct relationship between a consequent and its degree of matching to other consequents of the same sort. This "matching" aspect of induction implies a pre-existing set of categories based upon qualities (or standards) to which a consequent is "matched." These existent categories function for induction in much the same way that premises function for deduction, though in a linear fashion. Thus, the "purpose" of induction (which is to verify and evaluate according to existent standards) tells us that induction is not means-directed (even though induction begins with a consequent), but rather induction is a means-initiated inference method used for sorting objects of experience into pre-determined categories (or conclusions). The entire abductive process, on the other hand, is means-directed, since it both begins with a consequent and leads away from fixed categories toward the formulation of the qualities of new ones.
Thus, for our purposes here, we are going to define deductive and inductive reasoning as purpose or goal-directed, and abductive reasoning as means-directed.
Elsewhere the term "retroductive reasoning" has been specifically defined as the overarching method of deliberate recursive reasoning of Peirces methodeutic. Thus:
Although reciprocity between means and goals can occur within any process, retroduction (the overarching method by which new theories are engendered) involves the deliberate employment of a particular pattern of actions for the needs of a particular stage of an inquiry. This deliberate reciprocity occurs while the retroductive reasoner remains sensitive to the needs of the context and deliberately recognizes (and adjusts to) system-wide implications during a particular course of action.
"CONSTRUCTING" VERSUS "HAVING"
Most of us do not "formulate" new ideas (or goals) so much as we replicate existing things and concepts. Replication is of two sorts: simple and complex. Simple replication corresponds to simple induction, as it is a form of direct replication by directly matching similaritiesthus producing copies (or more instances) of something. Complex replication, on the other hand, corresponds to deductive reasoning, since it uses an indirect form of replicationcopying a general idea (or concept), then describing (explicating) that concept and developing the framework and plans for achieving (demonstrating) the projected outcome.
Only abductive reasoning can result in truly original outcomes. Abduction neither begins, operates, nor ends by using familiar categories as a guidebut rather addresses familiar goals and options as equal to any other raw material, considering these as available for adjustment, evolution, transformation, or abandonment as new options and new information arise.
It is also essential to realize that purposes can be acquired in other ways besides by means of abductive reasoning. Abduction is the method by which "new" discoveries are made and formulated into hypotheses worthy of testing and evaluation. Abduction is also the method by which truly "original" insights, methods, and outcomes are engendered in such fields as art, music, poetry, and dance. These are fields for which abduction alone can be used to produce original outcomes, rather than hypotheses in need of explication and testing. However, countless other sorts of goals are acquired by means of replication, and some goals are taken on capriciously with no forethought at all. Though they may be highly complex, replicated goals can never direct the production of original outcomes. Capriciously acquired goals, on the other had, can result in original outcomes if they are further explored by means of abductive reasoning.
For our purpose here of examining Peirces concept of inferences within the means-end continuum, we will be examining the ways by which differing individuals habitually acquire goals. These non-deliberate goal acquisition habits parallel the deliberate inferencing methods of Peirces logica docens. We are addressing these methods as used in habitual modes of reasoning because this perspective is more useful for clearly delineating the advantages and pitfalls of each sort of inferencing method in various goal acquisition contexts.
Goal acquisition begins in one of two general ways:
Everyone of us habitually begins any purposeful activity in one of these two ways. Some of us nearly always begin with a goal in mind, and others of us nearly always allow the means to direct the development of a goal. Neither of these general ways of acquiring goals is good or badjust appropriate or not for a given context. For example, some sorts of activities (like creating hypotheses and developing unique and original ideas) are best begun by letting the means direct the formation of goals. Other activities (such as testing hypotheses and producing outcomes) are best begun with well-defined goals that can be predictably performed and replicated.
Those who attempt to develop unique and original ideas by using a replicated goal (whether simple or complex) to direct the selection of means will find that they cannot do so. Those who attempt to meet actual goals by applying the means-directs goal method will be very frustrated as well. Originality and new discoveries (but not predictable outcomes) result from means-directed goals. Analysis, testing, and production always proceed most predictably when a goal directs the means selected.
Peirce sets out the protocol for formally applying means-directed and goal (or hypothesis)-directed inquiry in his logica docens. He defined instinctive (untrained) reasoning habits as belonging to logica utensthe "acritical and implicit logic of the common man." Although Peirce did not believe a theory of logica utens to be necessary, Dorothy Davis, who designed the Relational Thinking Styles model of non-verbal reasoning habits, provided a model and non-verbal assessment tool for identifying the logica docens of differing individuals. Her model and assessment tool has allowed us to correctly identify innate reasoning habits which parallel each of Peirces normative methods. Davis applied Peirces unique concept of logica docens as she developed her parallel model of logica utens. Her model delineates the "reasoning instinct or habits of reasoning" that differing individuals use for daily decision-making. This model has proven valuable for examining and clarifying aspects of Peirces pragmatism in dispute since his death.
Daviss model of logica utens makes it possible to identify which of the types of reasoning (abductive, deductive, or inductive) a particular individual habitually applies when making decisions of quality, of purpose, and of method. As far as Daviss model and Peirces pragmatism are concerned, however, we will be limiting our discussion here to methods having to do with the acquisition of purpose (or goals). Since Daviss reasoning habits are the instinctive and non-verbal expressions of the same reasoning methods that Peirce proposed in a formal sense, they will be treated as belonging within the same system as the formal one.
Now let us begin to examine the relationship of differing goal acquisition habits to the concept that John Dewey described as the "means-end continuum. In his 1939 book, Theory of Valuation, John Dewey wrote:
[O]nly the conception that certain things are ends-in-themselves can warrant the belief that the relation of ends-means is unilateral, proceeding exclusively from ends to means [The] arbitrary selection of some one part of the attained consequences as the end is the fruit of holding that it, as the end, is an end-in-itself, and hence possessed of "value" irrespective of all of its existential relations.
By this, John Dewey is saying that it is mistaken for us to assume that ends-in-themselves have value regardless of the relation of that end (or goal) to other factors, and to the means used to achieve it. Deweys definition of value is critical to understanding his view. We only think we have "achieved" an end because we have arbitrarily selected one part of a consequent as our "end, thus placing value upon it to the exclusion of whatever else our achievement has affected. For example, reaching the valued "end" of purchasing a new gas-guzzling vehicle, may mean disregarding the consequences of the relationships of that purchase to environmental pollution, traffic congestion, or perhaps the purchasers financial responsibilities (such as saving for a childs education). Deweys concept of the relations between means and ends describes the value-driven interaction between options and ends (or goals). Dewey is careful to define value to exclude the mistaken notion that valuing is purely subjective or emotive.
Deweys use of the term "means" refers to resourcesthat is: materials, tools, ideas, facts, anomalies, prior ends or consequences, and new discoverieswhatever is available. The term "ends" refers to projected outcomeswhether conditional outcomes (as are hypotheses and general goals) or actual outcomes (as are the proposed replication of previous results and consequences). Dewey contends that the perception and selection of means and goals are value-driven because, whenever we make purposeful choices, value directs the selection of means and options leading to formation of purpose. Then purpose, in turn, directs our selection of further means and options for attaining the purpose.
Dorothy Davis in first describing her model of logica utens tells us that "a goal is a value in action," and underscores a fundamental principle of all reasoning: no purposeful action can be taken without a goal of some sort. She thus places goal-acquisition and their means of accomplishment squarely into the realm of value-driven activities. Davis contends that individuals habitually acquire goals in one of four ways:
Spontaneous (or transitory) goal acquisition is a highly unpredictable method in terms of the methods that will be attempted and the outcomes that will be produced. This method of goal selection is accompanied by a shallow degree of intensity. (Although the acquisition of transitory goals are means-directed and, as such often result from a response to anomalous events, few habitual reasoners of this sort have the stamina or discipline to engage in the rigorous processes of abductive reasoning that follows the recognition of a surprising event.)
On the other hand, each of the goal-directed processes has a certain degree of predictabilityfor outcomes, sequences, or both. Goals that are acquired directly (because they are replicative of both ends and means) produce highly predictable outcomes and require only moderate intensity throughout a process. Analytically acquired goals produce predictable outcomes over the long term, but are not predictable in terms of the mid-to-short-term execution of the methods and means that will be applied to achieve them. People who habitually operate from these sorts of long-range goals habitually apply strong intensity for the explication and planning stages of their goals and only moderate attention for the achievement stages.
Relationally-derived goals are generative, evolving out of the application of high intensity for the confrontation of options. As such, relationally acquired goals are highly unpredictable in terms of both eventual outcomes and the methods used to achieve these.
Thus, when I distinguish here between goal-directed and means-directed processes, I am not saying that means-directed processes are goal-less, only that, in the case of means-directed acquisition of goals, the "goal" begins with a response to qualities, rather than to pre-existing form or content. A means-directed process ususally concludes in one of two ways:
Now, let us see how Deweys concept of a means-end continuum might apply to the goal-directed and means-directed inferencing methods of Peirces logica docens and Daviss parallel model of logica utens.
WHEN GOALS DIRECT THE MEANS SELECTED
it is at least a sign of immaturity when an individual fails to view his end as also a moving condition of further consequences, thereby treating it as final in the sense in which final signifies that the course of events has come to a complete stop. 
Countless examples of tenacious goal achievement exist throughout our society. That people should unquestioningly prize and achieve certain pre-set goals (such as making lots of money or otherwise achieving the "American Dream") is almost a sacred value within American culture. Not to be clearly goal-directed sets one apart as a sort of slackeras someone lacking focus, ambition, or, perhaps, even common sense.
The degree of flexibility with which someone addresses alternatives during a goal-directed activity depends upon the clarity of the goal and the tenacity with which it is held. For example, the goal-directed process of those skilled at applying deductive reasoning usually allows for great flexibility in the selection of means for achieving the goal. Those who habitually rely upon the fixed categories by which inductive reasoning operates will maintain such a rigid connection between a desired outcome and the "proper" means for achieving it that only specific tools and materials are acceptable to them.
Regardless of how rigid or how flexible a goal achievement process is, however, nothing completely original can come out of a goal-directed (inductive or deductive) process. The reason for this is because a goal defines, however loosely, the means by which it can be achieved. Peirce tells us, "Deduction explicates; Induction evaluates: that is all." Nothing new can come out of deduction, induction, or their parallels of simple and complex replication. Once engaged in a goal directed process, we are replicating, to a greater or lesser degree, an internal or external concept. As long as the process remains goal-directed, the selection of options is limited by the fixity of the goal (including the degree of fixity of existing premises and categories).
Thus, whenever a goal is initially acquired inductively or deductively, rather than abductively, all that can possibly result is a replication of some sort. Replications can be complexas in the creation of a new version of an existing idea (a better mousetrap, a safer bug spray, or a bigger arena, or a revised process). Or replications can be very simpleas are direct copies of existing things (such as stenciling flowers on a piece of green-ware, or following a pattern or a recipe without deviation). Whether simple or complex, however, whenever a goal directs an activity, then the methods and materials selected for achieving that goal will be defined by the requirements of the goal. This subordination of the selection of means to the achievement of a goal is not compatible with abductive reasoning. In fact, Daviss model demonstrates that people who instinctively rely upon goals to direct the selection of means find it difficult to engage in the uncertain and messy process of abductive reasoning. The clarity and efficiency of a goal-directed process is often enough to discourage habitual goal-seekers from dipping into the untidy part of the continuumwhere uncertainty and indeterminacy resideeven when anomalies, interesting (but seemingly unrelated) qualities, or surprising results pop up that might otherwise indicate they could do so. Goal-directed individuals tend to push full steam ahead towards the accomplishment of a goal, ignoring (or perhaps not even noticing) signs that they should rethink the goal. Rather than re-evaluate a goal (or methods for achieving it) when problems interfere with completion, many goal-directed individuals will abandon that goal altogether and choose a new one that seems less difficult for them to accomplish.
WHEN MEANS DIRECT THE FORMATION OF GOALS
So, rather than ignoring a phenomenon or an interesting option because it does not fit a goal (and rather than side-stepping the issue by working around it so that the end-in-view can still be achieved) the abductive reasoner dives into the continuum of uncertainty and indeterminacy. Within this continuum, Peirce contended, "all things swim." Those capable of abductive reasoning must be comfortable enough with ambiguity and uncertainty to swim among the yet-to-be-explored options and possibilities within this continuum, juxtaposing the information synthesized from one or more relationships with whatever new information, alternatives, or possibilities arise during the process.
Sometimes the matter of an anomaly can be settled by a quick round of analytical thought. Sometimes years are required to develop a hypothesis out of the evolving relationships made within this continuum. Peirce tells us that his "doctrine of continuity rests upon observed fact," but that it is fallibilism that "opens our eyes to the significance of that fact." However long it takes, whenever means (observed or present facts and materials) direct the formation of a goal, thought is directed by inquiry (or tentative testing) arising from anomalies and from the relationships these engender, rather than from selecting from options based upon what is required for accomplishing an end-in-view. In this sense, when means direct the formation of goals in abductive reasoning, they do so by "objectifying fallibilism." "Fallibilism," Peirce tells us, "is the doctrine that our knowledge is never absolute but swims, as it were in a continuum of uncertainty and if indeterminacy." To "objectify fallibilism," therefore, is to externalize the reality that our knowledge is fallible. Since abduction is the only inference method by which new concepts can be engendered, only abduction can bring about an awareness of the fallibility of existing knowledge. Thus, abduction, by making use of doubt and uncertainty, enables the means-directed reasoner to dip into "the continuum of uncertainty and indeterminacy" and (by the making of new relationships) construct out of the continuum conditional purposes which can then be explicated and tested by means of deduction and induction.
As mentioned before, Peirce wrote that "[t]he doctrine of continuity rests upon observed fact... But what opens our eyes to the significance of that fact is fallibilism." However, for fallibilism to open our eyes, we must be open to allowing it to do so. Anyone who maintains a rigid set of beliefs about what must absolutely be trueor a set of expectations (or goals) as to what will be discovered or accomplished during an activitywill surely miss out on the gifts which fallibilism holds. Clear goals and expectations tend to blind us to anomaliesespecially to anomalies that seem to reside outside pre-set beliefs, goals, or expectations. Those who are comfortable with abductive reasoning, with the condition of "uncertainty and of indeterminacy," refuse to rest in the arms of absolutism, remaining always open possibilities as these evolve from "non-existence to existence."
If we remain on the surface of the continuum with what is already known or can already be made known, we will observe the "future" in terms of the past and present. The relationship of "then" to "now" and "now" to "tomorrow" provides a comfortable (but often undependable) sense of regularity. For those who lack the necessary skills for swimming within "the continuum of uncertainty and indeterminacy," past and present experiences are likely to remain fixed and to shape their vision of the future into clear goals and expectations, even when they are presented with good reason for expecting otherwise. For such people, continuity is experienced only as regularityor the accumulation of more experiences which repeat (in form, if not in content) previous ones.
Of course, an "expectation of" sameness does not guarantee that sameness will occur. In fact, the more fixed someones beliefs and the more absolute the certainty that the future will (or should) replicate the present and past, the more likely that the individual will encounter many nasty surprises. Those with the highest degree of certainty about what will occur in the future, have the least ability to recognize signs indicating otherwise. Much of the time such beliefs are "acritical indubitabilities," which is to say that the belief has never been examined because the it seems so patently evident that it has never occurred to the individual (or, in some cases to anyone) to call it into question.
This condition of what seems to be a patently evident belief (or any acritically "fixed" belief for which all doubt has been extinguished) that the past will continue in the future can be very comforting, at least up to the point that it is proven dead wrong. Because of the comfortable nature of certainty, it is easy to understand why most people will resist dipping into uncertainty and refuse to heed warnings that a change of course is necessary until a problem is directly upon themand by then, often unavoidable. (We need only think of the issue of global warming to get an idea of what this refusal to recognize or heed warnings portends.)
On the other hand, we cannot (or should not) attempt to explore the unknown sans any connection to the known. In a discussion of the economy of research, Peirce wrote:
Nothing unknown can ever become known except through its analogy with other things known. Therefore, do not attempt to explain phenomena isolated and disconnected with common experience. It is a waste of energy, besides being extremely compromising. Turn a deaf ear to people who say, "scientific men ought to investigate this because it is so strange." That is the very reason why the study should wait. It will not be ripe until it ceases to be strange.
Peirce is describing here one principle of his doctrine of continuitythat "inexplicabilities are not to be considered as possible explanations. If we attempt to explain a "strange" phenomenon before there is sufficient experiential scaffolding from which to investigate it and then relate it to some aspect of existing general principles, we will lack the necessary tools for making the event meaningful. For, "the form under which alone anything can be understood is the form of generality, which is the same as continuity."
However, apparent discontinuities (emerging from the continuum of uncertainty and indeterminacy in which our knowledge always swims) are the external expressions of fallibilism which, when noticed, provide us with a reason to "open our eyes to the significance" of a surprising fact. A discontinuity will disrupt a goal-directed processif it is recognized, that is. Some goal-directed individuals habitually maintain such a tight hold on a projected goal and the methods for achieving it, that they completely miss discontinuities. If the discontinuity interferes with the achievement of the outcome, they may entirely change course and select a new goal that allows them to avoid dealing with the discontinuity altogether. Thus the disruption of a discontinuity does not necessarily mean that an individual will go for a leisurely swim in the waters of uncertainty. On the contrary, the tendency of some individuals to ignore anomalies and to inductively sort what can be sorted into familiar categories nearly guarantees that anomalies will be ignored or avoided whenever possible. When it becomes impossible to retain a familiar goal, such individuals (because they remain tightly attached to clear goals and pre-set categories) will seek the security of another clear goal right away. They will acquire this goal by either copying something or by setting out to make a new version of something that has already been conceived or produced in another form. Thus, if a problem proves to be one they cannot solve with what they already know, such individuals are likely to drop it and move onto something else that is familiar and predictable.
Although new version-making requires a much higher level of complexity than direct-copying does, it is still a goal-directed process and, as such (like any deductive process), cannot produce original ideas (although such thinking can produce clever solutions to existing problems). Goal-directed individuals (whether simple or complex) habitually experience the means-end continuum from the perspective of the visible aspects of the continuum (in this case, thirdness)that is from the perspective of ends (meaning goals, expectations, or ends-in-view) directing the choice of means for reaching an end. Such individuals do not begin with present facts as starting points (as a fallibilist would) but rather with beliefs, goals, and expectations concerning a future outcome that may or may not accommodate a particular fact. Because they are selecting and rejecting facts and other materials based upon an already existing beliefs, goals, or expectations, such individuals are usually unable to see the significance of whatever it is they are ignoring or rejecting during the selection process.
The capability for making abductive inferences means that an individual has the necessary skill for "swimming in the continuum of uncertainty and indeterminacy" and for making relationships from there. Abduction always begins with the "means," that is to say: the surprising fact, the qualities of a material, the sticky problem, or the anomaly. The abductive inference begins by exploring and experiencing the qualities of materials, ideas, and methods, rather than using materials and methods to accomplish a purpose.
The process of abduction involves addressing qualities by relating these in various (often unique and unusual) ways. In this sense, abduction could be considered in one sense as an interplay of firstness (quality) and secondness (relation) that evolves, by means of the relating, into thirdness (relationship). Though, of course, all purposeful activity (including relating the qualities of things) relies upon signs (which are themselves thirdnesses), thirdnesses as a new relationship, thought, mediation, or interpretation, are also by-products of abductive reasoning. In other words, for abduction, even signs are used as raw materials, not as directing goals.
Often an episode of abductive reasoning begins with a mistake; sometimes with a daydream, or because one is bored. Sometimes abduction begins as a decision to just sit among, or play with, ones "stuff" for a while and see what comes up. Sometimes abduction begins with a surprising result or an unusual phenomenon. Yet, any of these situations can occur and NOT produce abductive reasoning, so the key to understanding abduction resides in understanding what it means to swim within the continuum of uncertainty and indeterminacy. From the abductive perspective of this continuum, the means (materials, tools, facts, knowledge, possibilities, prior goals) direct the formation of a purposethat is, a conditional purpose or hypothesiswhich may or may not turn out to be useful, valid, or worthy. For as Peirce said, "abduction does not afford security. It must be tested ."
CONTINUITY AND RETRODUCTION
Abductive inferences are, in one sense, fragile and tentative because they result from an evolutionary-like process of interrelating and synthesizing qualities based upon their relationships to one another, rather than upon purposes dictated by a goal, or end-in-view. Their fragility consists in the fact that they offer no security and must be tested before they can be secured. In another sense, however, abductive inferences are valiant and powerful, braiding together facts and fields of ideas and qualities in ways that have not been done before. Whichever way you choose to view them (as fragile or valiant), however, abductive inferences always make use of uncertaintyof the fallibilism inherent in all knowledgefrom which to construct possibilities in the form of hypotheses (which Peirce also referred to as "conditional purposes"). If this were not so, no idea could be "new." "Deduction explicates; Induction evaluates: that is all ," wrote Peirce. He claimed that only abduction advances knowledge. We cannot ever discover anything new by means of deduction or induction. We can develop new versions of something, perhaps, or develop better ways of explaining an ideabut nothing new can come out of deduction or induction. Only abduction can present us with new ideas for explication and evaluation. Retroduction, on the other hand, is the full expression of continuity as the form of evolution by which "theories and conceptions are engendered." This means that retroduction is the overarching method guiding the cyclical interaction of abduction, deduction, and induction in the course of developing new ideas into full blown hypotheses ready for explication and evaluation.
Only when means are allowed to abductively direct the formation of goals and purposes can new discoveries occur. Yet, only when these abductively derived discoveries are secured by means of deduction and induction will the understanding of the reality (or general meaning) of the discovery unfold. For, "the form under which alone anything can be understood is the form of generality, which is the same as continuity." Reality," wrote Peirce, "is persistence, is regularity. In the original chaos, where there was no regularity, there was no existence. It was all a confused dream. But as things are getting more regular, more persistent, they are getting less dreamy and more real ." We, too, will get "less dreamy and more real" as we eliminate vagueness from our beliefs by learning to employ abductive reasoning in the generative-reciprocal-recursive activity of retroduction. A mind operating retroductively within the full scope of the means-ends continuum corresponds to someone using Peirces concept of "right reasoning." Right reasoning (synonymous with this writers interpretation of "retroductive reasoning" as Peirces methodeutic) is the overarching method directing the interplay of abduction, deduction, and induction in the course of developing a hypothesis. Once formed, explicated, and evaluated, a hypothesis can eventually bring about new conceptual regularities which become "provisional truths"those beliefs which have been fixed by "the method of science." The overarching method of retroduction requires that means-direct the formation of a worthy purpose and that, during the construction of that purpose (or hypothesis) the goal-directed activities of explication and evaluation interact with abduction in the course of this development. For, throughout the course of any inquiry, the overarching method of retroductive reasoning is at various times generative, reciprocal, and recursivedepending upon what is discovered at each step along the way. Therefore, retroduction (meaning the appropriate application of abduction, deduction, and induction during inquiry) is the method by which the means-end continuum is used for discovering new ideas, which then evolve (by means of goal-directed explication and evaluation) into the form and persistence that we call Reality.
First published: January, 2001
Content last modified: January, 2001