Minds and Machines

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 507–538

Conjectures and Manipulations. Computational Modeling and the Extra- Theoretical Dimension of Scientific Discovery

  • Lorenzo Magnani

DOI: 10.1023/B:MIND.0000045989.64955.e7

Cite this article as:
Magnani, L. Minds and Machines (2004) 14: 507. doi:10.1023/B:MIND.0000045989.64955.e7


Computational philosophy (CP) aims at investigating many important concepts and problems of the philosophical and epistemological tradition in a new way by taking advantage of information-theoretic, cognitive, and artificial intelligence methodologies. I maintain that the results of computational philosophy meet the classical requirements of some Peircian ‘pragmatic ambitions’. Indeed, more than a 100 years ago, the American philosopher C.S. Peirce, when working on logical and philosophical problems, suggested the concept of pragmatism(‘pragmaticism’, in his own words) as a logical criterion to analyze what words and concepts express through their practical meaning. Many words have been spent on creative processes and reasoning, especially in the case of scientific practices. In fact, many philosophers have usually offered a number of ways of construing hypotheses generation, but they aim at demonstrating that the activity of generating hypotheses is paradoxical, obscure, and thus not analyzable. Those descriptions are often so far from Peircian pragmatic prescription and so abstract to result completely unknowable and obscure. To dismiss this tendency and gain interesting insight about the so-called ‘logic of scientific discovery’ we need to build constructive procedures, which could play a role in moving the problem-solving process forward by implementing them in some actual models. The ‘computational turn’ gives us a new way to understand creative processes in a strictly pragmatic sense. In fact, by exploiting artificial intelligence and cognitive science tools, computational philosophy allows us to test concepts and ideas previously conceived only in abstract terms. It is in the perspective of these actual computational models that I find the central role of abduction in the explanation of creative reasoning in science. I maintain that the computational philosophy analysis of model-based and manipulative abduction and of external and epistemic mediators is important not only to delineate the actual practice of abduction, but also to further enhance the development of programs computationally adequate in rediscovering, or discovering for the first time, for example, scientific hypotheses or mathematical theorems. The last part of the paper is devoted to illustrating the problem of the extra-theoretical dimension of reasoning and discovery from the perspective of some mathematical cases derived from calculus and geometry.

abduction computational philosophy distributed cognition manipulative abduction model-based reasoning rationality 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lorenzo Magnani
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Computational Philosophy LaboratoryUniversity of PaviaPaviaItaly; Baruch College, The City University of New York, New York 10010, USA; E-mail: