Guessing and Scientific Discovery: Hypothesis-generation as a logical process

Mark Tschaepe

Prairie View A & M University

Guessing is considered a central function of scientific inquiry by most scientists and philosophers, but it has mostly been neglected as an object of philosophical analysis. William Whewell, Karl Popper, Carl Hempel, and Peter Lipton have all indicated that guessing is a fundamental part of the process of hypothesis-generation, but none of them have included it as a subject of philosophical discourse. Most philosophers of science have adhered to Hans Reichenbach’s distinction between the context of justification, which may be rationally reconstructed, and the context of discovery, which cannot be rationally reconstructed, placing guesses within the domains of history, psychology, and sociology, but not within philosophy and surely not in logic. Despite efforts by some philosophers of science who proffer a logic of discovery, this separation of guessing from philosophy of science has led to a severe neglect of one of the major components to hypothesis-generation. I supply an initial remedy to this neglect that provides a general definition of guessing that applies to scientific inquiry. By utilizing the philosophy of C.S. Peirce, I provide an analysis of guessing as it pertains to Peirce’s concept of abduction, placing the operation of guessing within the wider scope of the inquiring process. Guessing is considered as a deliberate and creative part of abduction, which is a logical process. As part of a logical process, guessing is clearly distinguished from induction and deduction. In order to elucidate this claim, I re-examine guessing procedures within the Semmelweis case of childbed fever. These procedures are then compared to the guessing procedures utilized in the investigation of the AIDS index case. Through this comparative examination, I provide an inchoate sketch of guessing as a logical process implicit to scientific discovery. This clarifies and opens a domain of philosophical inquiry that merits further investigation, especially within philosophy of science.