Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Multiple Functions of Analogical Reasoning in Science and Everyday Life

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Multiple Functions of Analogical Reasoning in Science and Everyday Life

Article excerpt


The importance of analogy in science and everyday life is difficult to overemphasize. Analogical reasoning serves here divergent aims and has many functions, ranging from the conception of ideas and the making of classifications, to solving concrete problem or even being a means of proof. Into the bargain, analogy also finds applications in literature, poetry and humor, which only makes its ubiquity all the more conspicuous.

In this paper, I will try to sketch aims and functions, separately for science and everyday life, beginning with the former field.2

Analogy in Science

It is commonplace that science as such is highly dependent on analogical reasoning. For instance Sunstain (1996: 63-64) states that: "Much creativity depends on seeing patterns, or likenesses, where these had not been seen before. Advances in science are often founded on discerning new patterns of commonality." Holyoak and Thagard (1996: 10-11) indicate that: "[t]he role of analogy in science can be traced back at least two thousand years. The first recorded use of analogy to develop an enduring scientific theory produced the idea that sound is propagated in the form of waves." And Bieganski (1909) notes that if we did not utilize analogical reasoning, the progress of science based solely on induction and deduction would be relatively very limited. I shall show this dependence by splitting the role that analogical reasoning may play in the scientific field into several functions.

The Heuristic Function

It is sometimes said that the conviction as to the heuristic value of analogy is so common that arguing for it seems to be trivial (see Biela 1989). Indeed, above all, analogy constitutes an effective means of inventing scientific propositions, contributing to advancing so-called tentative or working hypotheses. It is mostly owing to analogy that the incubation of new ideas and thoughts is possible. Moreover, analogy provides us with suggestions as to possible experiments (and how to design them) and observations that are promising or at least not merely random or haphazard (see D^mbska 1962; Bieganski 1909; Kotarbinski 1953; Biela 1989; Dunbar 2001; Niiniluoto 1988). Needless to say, such a capacity for putting forth in a sense ordered tentative propositions is indispensable for the development of any area of science (Mill 1882).

For instance, following Biela, inter alia, one may ascribe the view to such authors as Herbert Spencer, James Welton, Wilhelm Wundt, William S. levons, M.L. Ashley, that in science analogy has nearly cornered the market in inventing new hypotheses. Bieganski in turn, asserts that reasoning by analogy is a very important medium that allows us to pass from that what is known to that what is unknown. Hence, as he observes, analogy-in comparison with other kinds of reasoning: deduction and induction-provides us with the most new import; without the benefit of analogy we would be trapped into the tight scope of what is already known. That is, deduction and in principle induction too, cannot produce anything that is really new against the contents of their premises. Incidentally, as Radin (2012: 7) intimates in the context of demonstrative sciences, specifically Euclidean geometry: "However involved and intricate the final theorems sound, they cannot possibly add an idea-not the smallest-that was not originally expressed in the definitions. Similarly, algebra is an extremely ingenious series of variations on the theme that A equals A." In a similar vein, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1969: 385) point out that "[ajnalogies are important in invention and argumentation fundamentally because they facilitate the development and extension of thought."

This heuristic role of analogy in science may-essentially-be split into two spheres in which:

1. analogy can result in the invention of a new scientific problem/question that calls for being resolved,

2. analogy can lead not to the invention of the new problem/question one feels need to confront but to the very proposition as to how this problem/question could be resolved (see Biela 1989; D^mbska 1962). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.