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Charles Sanders Peirce - Observed facts do not, in themselves, contain any practical knowledge




C. S. Peirce, excerpts from Ms. 692:

Now our percepts and direct observations relate exclusively to the

circumstances that happened to exist when they were made, and not to any

future occasion in which we might be in doubt how to act. Consequently,

observed facts do not, in themselves, contain any practical knowledge;

and in order to attain such knowledge, additions must be made to the

data of perception. Any proposition added to the percepts, tending to

make those data illuminate other circumstances than those under which

they were observed, may be called a hypothesis. For instance, it is a

hypothesis that thirteen of the present United States were former

colonies of Great Britain. For it cannot be directly observed. All that

we can observe is that it is so asserted in books and tradition, and

that a few monuments of divers kinds support the assertion. [pg. 13-14]

That neither deduction nor induction can ever add the smallest item to

the data of perception; and, as we have already noticed, mere percepts

do not constitute any knowledge applicable to any practical or

theoretical use. All that makes knowledge applicable comes to us via

abduction. Looking out my window this lovely spring morning I see an

azalea in full bloom. No, no! I do not see that; though that is the only

way I can describe what I see. That is a proposition, a sentence, a

fact; but what I perceive is not proposition, sentence, fact, but only

an image, which I make intelligible in part by means of a statement of

fact. This statement is abstract; but what I see is concrete. I perform

an abduction when I so much as express in a sentence anything I see. The

truth is that the whole fabric of our knowledge is one matted felt of

pure hypothesis confirmed and refined by induction. Not the smallest

advance can be made in knowledge beyond the stage of vacant staring,

without making an abduction at every step. [pg. 26-27]


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