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The American Journal of Semiotics


published on January 21, 2016

Barry Stampfl

Instinctive Wisdom and Trauma-Driven Abductions

Trauma and Peircean abduction are topics that seem worlds apart, and yet it is my view that bringing them together potentially might pay dividends both for the study of trauma and for the study of abduction. A necessary point of departure for the critical articulation I have in mind is the positing of a common ground: in what sense, if any, does the making of abductive inferences intersect with psychological/cognitive processes underlying traumatization? The key to answering this question is the decision to focus on a hitherto unexamined subcategory of abductive inferences: trauma-driven abductions. In this essay, having briefly discussed materials from trauma studies and from abduction studies that help to contextualize the possibility of trauma-driven abductions, I will explore their pertinence to a perennial puzzle in abduction studies, Peirce’s insistence in his later writings that abduction is both inferential and instinctive. Developing the suggestiveness of an example provided by the Peirce scholar Christopher Hookway to illustrate how an abduction may inspire uncontrollable belief without ceasing to be reasonable, I will show how materials from trauma studies allow us to specify how instinct shapes the creation/selection of abductive speculations in special cases where the surprising facts initiating hypotheses are composed of environmental cues evocative of extreme fear. In this way my essay provides new support and clarification for Peirce’s insight that instinct and inference are both integral to the production of abductive hypotheses.

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