The concept of abduction was extensively analyzed by the pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce more than a century ago. Modern philosophers typically treat abduction as being the same as “inference to the best explanation” and often even attribute this position to Peirce. But this was not his position. For him, abduction involved inference to any possible explanation. He was particularly concerned with how people respond to experiences they were not expecting by acquiring new beliefs which would make such experiences expected. We spell out the eight cognitive steps from unexpected experience to new belief that are implicit in Peirce’s work on abduction, and using a particular historical example we show how promising this theory of belief acquisition is. We identify two lacunae in this theory that will need to be filled in if we are to have a complete theory of how unexpected experiences (“surprising facts”) give rise to new beliefs.
- Charles S. Peirce
- Belief Formation
- Abductive Inference
- Inference to the Best Explanation