Abductive Argument

What is an abductive argument?

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

The function of abductive arguments is to build hypotheses that allow us to give an explanation to phenomena that have occurred or are developing. This hypothesis guides the search in an investigation, since it must be proven or discarded.

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

To do this, the abductive argument is structured with a premise and a conclusion, like all arguments. For example:

  • Premise: “There has been a considerable increase in crime in the last year.”
  • Conclusion: “Most likely, the phenomenon is 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 attempts to explain that fact. So 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. Therefore, the conclusion is just 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 states that she has not had a period in more than six weeks. Most likely she is pregnant.
  • Juan Pérez is very hostile with his fifth grade classmates. Probably, he faces problems of domestic violence from his early childhood.
  • The murdered woman had life insurance that benefited her husband. Probably, he is guilty of the crime.
  • This morning I found my cat passed out behind the washing machine. Probably, he was poisoned by some neighbor.
  • The performance of workers has improved in recent months. Rewarding productivity has probably been a boost.
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See also:

  • Plot
  • Argument Examples
  • Hypothesis

Abductive, deductive and inductive argument

Abductive, deductive and inductive arguments are different from each other, although they have some similar 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 fact. 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 abductive arguments are explanatory hypotheses, while the conclusions of inductive reasoning are projections that arise from 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, their conclusions are always considered valid.

Let’s take a look at the following comparison chart.

Aspects abductive argument inductive argument deductive argument
Structure premise + conclusion premise + conclusion premise + conclusion
premise type Identifies a past or developing phenomenon. Identifies repeated patterns in a sample of cases. State a general principle or known law.
conclusion Explanatory hypothesis. Generalization or projection on the entire population. Application of the premise to a particular case.
Validity of the conclusion Probable. Probable. Valid.
examples Premise:

The hens in my barnyard have not laid eggs for a long time.


They are most likely sick.


Chickens are birds and they lay eggs.

Swallows are birds and they lay eggs.


Probably all birds lay eggs.


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


Therefore, the macaw lays eggs.

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It may interest you:

  • Deductive reasoning
  • inductive reasoning
  • Types of arguments or reasoning
  • Examples of inductive and deductive arguments