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Minerva Medicolegale 2013 March;133(1):29-37


language: Italian

Abduction as the first rule of inference in medicolegal investigation. Logical structure, theoretical aspects and practical applications

Messina R.

Primario Emerito di Medicina Legale, Azienda Sanitaria di Alessandria, Alessandria, Italia


The logical structure of abduction and correlated methodology are presented. This inference, which formulates an explanatory hypothesis, plays a centrally important role in the dynamics of knowledge, particularly in the sciences and medicolegal investigation, as it permits one to extend knowledge by proceeding in a formal logical process from the known to the unknown. Enumerated are the main properties of probable reasoning that can be carried out on the basis of initially incomplete information or subsequently extended, among which the non-monotonic property is of primary importance. The importance of probable reasoning is then delineated: while the conclusions of analytical reasoning are already implicated by the premises and do not add anything new, those formulated by probable syllogisms are instead concise, consequently, a new epistemic possibility can be inferred only or essentially on the basis of probable reasoning. Fundamental in the initial phases is the criterion of choice of the hypotheses; however, also by proceeding heuristically one can arrive at numerous possible abductive conclusions, though there is no guarantee that any of these will be satisfactory or definitive. Hence, one will need to differentially test all competing abductive hypotheses that have been formulated in order to arrive at the one that, because it explains them, satisfies all the circumstances emerging from an investigation. If the most manifestly satisfying hypothesis cannot be completely and directly tested, as occurs in the historical method that seeks to give a complete explanation for all correlated facts, it remains a mere collection of collateral facts (factual, clinical, anatomical, circumstantial, modal information) which will sustain the hypothesis, operating the motivation through homogeneous coherence.

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