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Reviewed by:
  • Truth-Seeking by Abduction by Ilkka Niiniluoto
  • Lorenzo Magnani
Ilkka Niiniluoto
Truth-Seeking by Abduction
Cham: Springer, 2018 (Synthese Library), 185 pp., incl. index.

This excellent book, written by a reputed researcher on philosophy of science and former Chancellor of the University of Helsinki, is both difficult and rewarding. Approaching the problem of abduction from a multidisciplinary perspective, the book contends that a great part of human activity of truth-seeking is due to the hypothetical reasoning performed thanks to abductive skills. The book is the fruit of decades of rich research and collects and reorganizes various articles about abduction or related topics basically oriented by logical and epistemological interests. Hence, the volume extensively explores abductive cognition, a very important but, at least until the third quarter of the last century, neglected topic in logic, epistemology, and cognitive science.

As I have myself indicated in my books on abduction, the status of abduction is very controversial. When dealing with abductive reasoning misinterpretations and equivocations are common. To give some [End Page 207] examples, the following are some questions that are still of great interest. What are the differences between abduction and induction? What are the differences between abduction and the well-known hypothetico-deductive method? What did Peirce mean when he considered abduction both a kind of inference and a kind of instinct or when he considered perception a kind of abduction? Does abduction involve only the generation of hypotheses or their evaluation too? Are the criteria for the best explanation in abductive reasoning epistemic, or pragmatic, or both? Does abduction preserve ignorance or extend truth or both? How many kinds of abduction are there? Is abduction merely a kind of “explanatory” inference or does it involve other non-explanatory ways of guessing hypotheses?

Niiniluoto’s new book answers the questions above taking advantage of a very rich interdisciplinary perspective. In Ch. 1 not only the classical problem of the meaning of the concept of abduction in Peircean writings is afforded, taking into account the modifications occurred during various decades of studies, but also various debates concerning the interpretation of the term are illustrated. Ch. 2 proposes to the attention of the reader the method of analysis and synthesis (already emphasized and studied by Jaakko Hintikka), intertwining it with the detective stories and paying attention to interesting related observations made by various contemporary researchers in abductive cognition. Ch. 3 illustrates the role of logic in furnishing what we can call deductive models of abduction (structural rules, sematic tableaux, the GW-schema of abduction as ignorance preserving and the interrogative model are usefully described and occasionally criticized), and Ch. 4 innovatively revivifies the importance of the role of abduction (as retroduction) in many kinds of inverse problems in medicine, biology, and human sciences. The problem of abduction as a creative tool for discovery and pursuit is illustrated in Ch. 5, also working on the problem of identifying plausible or testworthy hypotheses; probabilistic Bayesian models as used when dealing with abduction and confirmation are illustrated in Ch. 6 and abduction as an inference to the best explanation is examined in Ch. 7. Finally, Ch. 8 and Ch. 9 are respectively devoted to revisit the classical problem of abduction as a way of reaching the truthlikeness of conclusions and its role in the debate concerning scientific realism.

By putting together such a rich collection of chapters, the author has surely authoritatively contributed to a further corroboration of the autonomy and dignity of the concept of abduction, at this point clearly vindicated as one of the main topics of the current academic and intellectual research interested in logic, epistemology, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience.

Niiniluoto’s text shows complex and critical examinations of various areas of past and current studies concerning the concept of abduction and its life in logical, epistemological, and cognitive disciplines: [End Page 208] if the reader is appropriately grounded in the extended literature that Niiniluoto contemplates, then references to particular issues can be very deeply informative. Further, given the clarity of many of the adopted explanations, the less informed reader will have the opportunity to have a first fascinating contact with this contemporary area of...


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