Abductive argument features structure and examples

The abductive argument can be defined as a form of reasoning that seeks to obtain simple conclusions through a series of premises. Unlike in deductive reasoning, plausible conclusions are drawn in this process, but cannot be verified.

For example: Assumption 1; all people are mortal. Premise 2; Antonio is a person. Conclusion: Antonio is mortal. The conclusions drawn from this type of argument are the most likely, but they harbor certain doubts. Although this is not noticed in this first example (Antonio is mortal), it will be seen in the following ones.

The philosopher and scientist Charles Peirce (1839-1914) claimed that an abductive argument is a kind of conjecture. This means that an abductive argument, also known as a “best explanation argument”, is often used frequently when you want to explain a phenomenon in a discussion. This type of argument is usually presented in discussions that have different hypotheses about one or more events.

In these discussions, the defending person defends some of the hypotheses because he considers it the best possible option.

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When is the abductive argument used?

Due to the simple logic of abductive arguments, these are commonly used in everyday life. In fact, most people use them on a daily basis without realizing it. Some link this reasoning to common sense.

Fernando Soler Toscano, in his text Abductive reasoning in classical logic (2012), states that the abductive argument has similarities with the syllogisms determined by Aristotle (384-322 BC). This occurs in both cases, starting from a reasoning in which a series of statements is established that necessarily leads to others.

For this reason, Aristotle considered abductive reasoning to be a kind of syllogism. This method was used on a recurring basis by the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, a highly recognized detective in popular culture known for his strong intuition.

In the novel Study in Scarlet (written by AC Doyle in 1887), Holmes discovers that one of the characters came from Afghanistan due to the man having a martial air and his face being visibly tanned compared to his wrists. This type of approach corresponds to the abductive argument.

Features of the abductor argument

Increases argumentative knowledge

The main characteristic of the abductive argument (which differentiates it from other forms of logical inference, such as induction and deduction) is that it increases the knowledge of the arguer, as it allows him to know something that he did not know before.

For example, all beans in bag N are known to be white, so it can be assumed that a set of white beans is likely to belong in that bag; this is stated from the premise that green beans are white. Thanks to this premise, the arguer now knows that the white bean group can come from bag N.

Allows you to foresee and create new ideas

In the same way, hijacking is also characterized because it allows not only to create hypotheses, but also to predict and build new ideas.

Therefore, Charles Pierce considered the abductive argument the most complex reasoning within logical inferences; only this method is dedicated to cognitive enrichment.

However, it is necessary to limit that the adduction is subject to the possibility of error. That is, within the abductive argument there is a margin in which there is always room for possible error.


Below is the basic structure of an abductive argument. This can have two or more premises:

First premise : N is an event or a set of events.

Second premise: G is a possible or satisfactory explanation of N.

Conclusion: G is the explanation of N, at least until something suggests otherwise.

Examples of abductive arguments

Some examples of abductive argument are as follows:


First premise: elegant men buy their clothes at Alberto’s store.

Second premise: Nestor is an elegant man.

Conclusion: Néstor must buy his clothes at Alberto’s shop.


First premise: the weather is clear and sunny.

Second premise: When the skies are clear, my wife and I go for a walk.

Conclusion: Today my wife and I are going for a walk.


First premise: A large part of the young population uses drugs.

Second premise: the young population has free time.

Conclusion: The young population that has a lot of free time consumes drugs.


First premise : the kitchen floor woke up wet.

Second premise: the refrigerator is defective.

Conclusion: Kitchen floor woke up wet due to refrigerator failure.


First premise: the bags they sell at Ana’s store are expensive.

Second premise: Luisa only buys expensive wallets.

Conclusion: Luisa is going to buy or has already bought at Ana’s store.


First premise: the neighbors make a lot of noise.

Second premise: Emiliano is my neighbor.

Conclusion: Emiliano makes a lot of noise.


First premise: this car is purchased only by rich people.

Second premise: Carlos is rich.

Conclusion: Carlos can buy this car.

It is important to note that the premises of abductive arguments can be wrong and therefore cannot be considered universal truths. It is also recommended to make a critical assessment of the argument before stating the conclusions.

Critical evaluation of the argument

To assess the effectiveness of an abductive argument, it is necessary to answer a series of critical questions, which serve to corroborate the assertiveness of the premises and strengthen the conclusion. These questions are as follows:

  1. Are the facilities acceptable? That is, in objective terms, is it possible that N happened? Likewise, are there any events that make up G? What is the probability of explanation G? Is G really the best explanation? How much better is G compared to the rest of the hypotheses?
  2. Is the conclusion well founded? Specifically, was the research careful? Did you provide significant information? On the other hand, would it be preferable to continue the investigation before stating that G is the best answer for N?

On many occasions, after applying this assessment, the arguer has had to reconsider the initial premises. However, the application of this assessment is necessary only when you want to develop a more decisive explanation of the phenomena.

If an abductive argument is used in everyday life and in ordinary events, it is unlikely that the formulation of these questions will be necessary, because the main purpose of such arguments is to reach a quick conclusion.

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