# The Routledge Companion to Semiotics

By Paul Cobley | Go to book overview

Part II
KEY THEMES AND MAJOR
FIGURES IN SEMIOTICS

A

ABDUCTION Abduction is the inferential process by which hypotheses are framed. It is the process of inference by which the rule that explains the fact is hypothesized through a relation of similarity (iconic relation) to that fact. This rule that acts as the general premise may be taken from a field of discourse that is close to or distant from that to which the fact belongs, or it may be invented ex novo. If the conclusion is confirmed, it retroacts on the rule and convalidates it (ab- or retro-duction). Such retroactive procedure makes abductive inference risky, exposing it to the possibility of error. At the same time, however, if the hypothesis is correct, the abduction is innovative, inventive and sometimes even surprising (cf. Bonfantini 1987).

According to Peirce:

Abduction is the process of
forming an explanatory hypothe -
sis. It is the only logical opera tion
which introduces any new idea; for
induction does nothing but
determine a value, and deduction
merely evolves the nec essary
consequences of a pure hypothesis.

Deduction proves that some -
thing must be; Induction shows
that something actually is opera -
tive; Abduction merely suggests
that something may be.

(CP 5.172)

The relation between the premises and the conclusion may be considered in terms of the relation between what we may call, respectively, interpreted signs and interpretant signs. In induc tion, the relation between premises and conclusion is determined by habit and is of the symbolic type. In deduction it is indexical, the conclusion being a necessary derivation from the premises. In abduction, the relation bet ween premises and conclusion is iconic, that is, it is a relation of reciprocal autonomy. This makes for a high degree of inventiveness together with a high risk margin for error. Abductive processes are highly dialogic and generate responses of the most risky, inventive and creative order. To claim that abductive argumentative procedures are risky is to say that they are mainly tentative and hypothetical, leaving only a minimal margin to convention (symbolicity)

-163-

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The Routledge Companion to Semiotics

• The Routledge Companion to Semiotics i
• Title Page iii
• Contents vii
• Contributors ix
• Acknowledgements xvii
• Using This Book xix
• Part I- Understanding Semiotics 1
• Introduction 3
• 1 - Ancient Semiotics 13
• 2 - Semiotics of Nature 29
• 3 - Umwelt and Modelling 43
• 4 - Logic and Cognition 57
• 5 - Realism and Epistemology 74
• 6 - Peirce, Phenomenology and Semiotics 89
• 7 - The Saussurean Heritage 101
• 8 - Sociosemiotics 118
• 9 - Semiotics of Media and Culture 135
• 10 - Semioethics 150
• Part II - Key Themes and Major Figures in Semiotics 163
• References 359
• Index 389
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