Abductive argument

What is an abductive argument?

The abductive argument is a type of reasoning that raises a premise and a hypothesis to explain it. It is also known as a conjecture or as an argument from the best explanation.

The function of abductive arguments is to construct hypotheses that allow an explanation to occur or developing phenomena. This hypothesis guides the search in an investigation, as it must be proven or discarded.

An abductive argument chooses the most likely explanation for a phenomenon from among several possibilities. Thus he participates in the design of different potential solutions to the main question.

For this, the abductive argument is structured with a premise and a conclusion, like all reasoning. For instance:

  • Premise: "There has been a significant increase in crime in the last year."
  • Conclusion: "The phenomenon is most likely related to the increase in impunity."

In this case, the premise refers to an event that has occurred or is in progress: the increase in crime. The conclusion is the hypothesis that tries to explain that fact. Then the conclusion will be the explanation of the premise until proven otherwise.

The premise of an abductive argument is only capable of providing a relative degree of probability to the conclusion. Hence, the conclusion is only the most likely explanation, but not necessarily the true one.

In an investigation, abductive arguments are part of the discovery process. To formulate them, the researcher must use imagination and instinct. For this reason, abductive arguments are widely used by detectives in their work.

Examples of abductive arguments

  • The patient declares that she has not had her menstruation in more than six weeks. Most likely, you are pregnant.
  • Juan Pérez is very hostile to his fifth grade classmates. You probably face domestic violence issues from early childhood.
  • The murdered woman had life insurance that benefited her husband. He is probably guilty of the crime.
  • This morning I found my cat passed out behind the washing machine. Probably, he was poisoned by a neighbor.
  • Worker performance has improved in recent months. Rewarding productivity has probably been a boost.

See also:

  • Argument
  • Examples of arguments
  • Hypothesis

Abductive, deductive and inductive argument

The abductive, deductive and inductive arguments are different from each other, although they keep some similarity relationships. All of these arguments have one thing in common: the premise is always true. However, the type of premise is different in each case. Furthermore, these arguments differ in their function and in the validity of the conclusion.

The premises of abductive reasoning identify a past or developing event. The premises of inductive arguments identify repeated patterns in concrete cases. Finally, the premises of deductive arguments state a general principle or law.

On the other hand, the conclusions of the abductive arguments are explanatory hypotheses, while the conclusions of the inductive reasonings are projections that arise from the observed patterns. In both arguments, the premises have in common the fact that they are probable.

Instead, the conclusions of deductive reasoning always confirm the premise through its application to a specific case. Therefore, your conclusions are always considered valid.

Let's see the following comparison chart.

AspectsAbductive argumentInductive argumentDeductive argumentStructurePremise + conclusionPremise + conclusionPremise + conclusionPremise typeIdentify a past or developing phenomenon.Identify repeating patterns in a sample of cases.It sets out a general principle or known law.ConclutionExplanatory hypothesis.Generalization or projection over the entire population.Application of the premise to a particular case.Validity of the conclusionProbable.Probable.Valid.Examples


The chickens in my pen have not laid eggs for a long time.


Most likely they are ill.


Chickens are birds and they lay eggs.

Swallows are birds and they lay eggs.


All birds probably lay eggs.


Do all birds lay eggs. The macaw is a bird.


Therefore, the macaw lays eggs.

It may interest you:

  • Deductive reasoning
  • Inductive reasoning
  • Types of arguments or reasoning

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