Abductive Reasoning

Abductive Reasoning (also called abduction, abductive inference or retroduction) is a form of logical inference which goes from an observation to a theory which accounts for the observation, ideally seeking to find the simplest and most likely explanation. In abductive reasoning, unlike in deductive reasoning, the premises do not guarantee the conclusion. One can understand abductive reasoning as "inference to the best explanation".[1]

Abductive reasoning is based on creating and testing hypotheses using the best information available. Abductive reasoning is used in a person’s daily decision making because it works with whatever information is present—even if it is incomplete information. Essentially, this type of reasoning involves making educated guesses about the unknowable from observed phenomena.

Abductive reasoning typically begins with an incomplete set of observations and proceeds to the likeliest possible explanation for the set. Abductive reasoning yields the kind of daily decision-making that does its best with the information at hand, which often is incomplete.

A medical diagnosis is an application of abductive reasoning: given this set of symptoms, what is the diagnosis that would best explain most of them? Likewise, when jurors hear evidence in a criminal case, they must consider whether the prosecution or the defense has the best explanation to cover all the points of evidence. While there may be no certainty about their verdict, since there may exist additional evidence that was not admitted in the case, they make their best guess based on what they know. Abductive reasoning is characterized by lack of completeness, either in the evidence, or in the explanation, or both. A patient may be unconscious or fail to report every symptom, for example, resulting in incomplete evidence, or a doctor may arrive at a diagnosis that fails to explain several of the symptoms. Still, he must reach the best diagnosis he can.[2]

See Also

Deductive Reasoning
Inductive Reasoning
Rational Unified Process (RUP)
Analysis Effort Method
Analogical Strategic Reasoning
Analytic Applications
Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP)
Analytic Hierarchy Process Framework (AHP)
Analytical CRM
Predictive Analytics
Business Analytics
Advanced Analytics


  1. Definition of Abductive Reasoning Wikipedia
  2. What is Abductive Reasoning? Butte College

Further Reading