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Keywords:

  • abduction;
  • Thomas Aquinas;
  • Aristotle;
  • causality;
  • demonstration;
  • Galileo Galilei;
  • inference;
  • realism;
  • science;
  • theory

Abstract In his Aquinas Lecture 1992 at Marquette University, Ernan McMullin discusses whether there is a pattern of inference that particularly characterizes the sciences of nature. He pursues this theme both on a historical and a systematic level. There is a continuity of concern across the ages that separate the Greek inquiry into nature from our own vastly more complex scientific enterprise. But there is also discontinuity, the abandonment of earlier ideals as unworkable. The natural sciences involve many types of inference; three of these interlock in a special way to produce “retroductive inference,” the kind of complex inference that supports causal theory.