Is knowledge in the arts based on abductive reasoning? In the arts esp. visual art, do we use abductive reasoning to try to come up with the best possible interpretation of a piece of visual art?

  • Keep in mind that there is also a background "vocabulary" to a lot of this work. Signs and symbols the artists were able to use to communicate to the viewer. Think of religion and myth. There are even modern uses of this. Sartre's implacable root in "Nausea" can be picked up by Godard's focus on the bark of a tree in one of his films, sorry I can't remember which one. Semiotics, etc. – Gordon Dec 17 '17 at 18:32

I would say the answer is yes. Art is, well, an art and not a science. The precision of a deductive conclusion is not possible, nor is it possible to conduct the repeated experiments that support induction.

But it is possible for the observer to assemble whatever data is available and draw an inference to the best explanation. A painter might have worked several centuries ago. Deduction and induction are out of the question. But a lot of information still exists, such as: when the painter lived, the cultural customs of the day, materials available to an artist, and the work done by other contemporary painters.

Such data data allows an observer today to form some interpretation of what the painter was likely trying to say. Scientific it is not, but abduction is the best method available and its conclusion can still be meaningful.

| improve this answer | |
  • "allows an observer today to form some interpretation of what the painter was likely trying to say" ...this seems to imply that art interpretation is a function of attempting to abduce a message that an artist is trying to communicate with his work, which implies that all visual art reduces to messages that the artists intend to communicate using the work. Are you sure this assumption is valid? Could it be countered by an artist for whom an anthropology project isn't necessary... say, a living person you can talk to, who simply denies that there was a specific intended message? – H Walters Dec 18 '17 at 9:10
  • Hmm. I would say abduction depends on deduction and induction. We use these to arrive at the 'best' explanation. For instance, Sherlock Holmes uses deduction and induction to narrow his list of possibilities and suspects until he arrives at just one. Also,in art I suspect we arrive at the interpretation we like best, not necessarily the best one in a logical sense, There may be no 'best' one in a logical sense where artists will often prefer we find our own interpretation. – user20253 Dec 18 '17 at 13:04

Do you mean : Is all knowledge in the arts based on abductive inference ? Or only that some of it is ?

Abductive inference is - what ? - something like this. B needs to be explained; if A were true then B would follow with a high degree of probability; therefore there is some reason to suppose that A is true.

Three comments :

  1. What of presumptive inference in which an answer, X, to a problem, Y, is provisionally agreed and argument continues until a refutation of X, or other compelling reasons not to accept X, is found. This is not unlike one method of argument in the Platonic Socratic dialogues, which concern the arts as much as anything else. This does not look like abductive reasoning.

  2. What of argument by analogy - loose analogy as so often in the arts ? This again is not abductive ?

These points only apply if - what is not clear - you mean that all knowledge in the arts is based on inductive inference. If you don't, but intend only that some is, then :

  1. What, finally, of 'in principle' direct objections to abductive inference of the kind offered e.g. by Van Fraassen ? Fraassen uses scientific examples but if abduction is indefensible then it is indefensible in the arts too. See Stathis Psillos, 'On Van Fraassen's Critique of Abductive Reeasoning', Philosophical Quarterly, 1996, 31-47.
| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.