Working Papers

Peirce’s Concept of Abduction (Hypothesis Formation) across His Later Stages of Scholarly Life

Martin Potschka

The subject of this communication is Peirce’s ideas about abduction which is just one step in his larger scheme of evidence- based hypothetico-deductive epistemology. Since Peirce repeatedly changed his mind, the aim is to construct a “definitive Peirce” on this particular subject. A short list of quotations from the large corpus of Peirce was assembled (some 440 items extracted from 122 bibliographic units have been documented) and this annotated bibliography was used to interpret Peirce’s intentions. Several stages in the development of his ideas can be demarcated. A classification of his late life into a methodological stage (logic of discovery), and a noetic stage (psychology of discovery) is confirmed. Peirce gives up on applying syllogistic inference to abduction in preference of Socratic interrogations, but this development is overlaid by ever increasing emphasis on a guessing instinct. Peirce’s contradictions are best rendered as tetralemma; like fibers in a rope extending in time and not unicursal stages. His ideas about creativity turn from historical (breaking new ground) to psychological (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny) and reveal much of his personality and health. Peirce’s epistemology is compared with that of Popper, who was a nominalist. My study also sheds light on a number of related issues: Peirce anticipates Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic fields, whereas he was still unaware of chaos theory. Nor did he recognize that behind instinctual guidance some inference via 2nd order variations is at work. The status and reality of hypothetical entities will be discussed briefly. In spite of Peirce’s emphasis on evidence, verisimilitude remains to be negotiated.

Potschka, M. (2018). Peirce’s Concept of Abduction (Hypothesis Formation) across His Later Stages of Scholarly Life (Commens Working Papers no. 8). Retrieved from Commens: Digital Companion to C. S. Peirce,
February 6, 2018