Analogy in the natural sciences: meeting Hesse’s challenge


  • Paul Bartha



analogy, analogical reasoning, metaphor, Mary Hesse.


Hesse’s challenge, over a period of many years, was to provide a theory of scientific concepts and a logic of science, both of which were based on analogies and metaphors. We can equally well understand her challenge as the development of a theory of metaphor and analogy, with the natural sciences serving as an important special case. This paper explores two distinct ways in which we might see analogies in science as a special case in relation to a general theory of analogy.

On the leading special case view, understanding how analogies work in science is the key to developing a general theory. On the limiting case view, providing a general theory, especially of how analogies work in everyday contexts, is a precursor to understanding their specialized role in science. While both approaches are present in Hesse’s work, I suggest that the former is associated with her early (1966) work on analogical arguments and the latter with her later (1974; 1988) theories of metaphor and meaning. Her shift towards the limiting case view is associated with growing pessimism about the prospects for inductive logic. Yet the distinction remains important in current work on analogy: Hesse’s challenge is to reconcile normative theories of analogical reasoning with computational models of analogical cognition.