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hypothesisany proposition which is advanced for testing or appraisal as a generalization about a phenomenon. See also EXPERIMENTAL HYPOTHESIS, NULL HYPOTHESIS, HYPOTHETICO-DEDUCTIVE EXPLANATION AND METHOD.
that which lies at the base of something; cause or essence. Examples of hypothesis are Democritus’ “atoms,” Plato’s “ideas,” and Aristotle’s “prime mover.” In modern usage a hypothesis is an assumption or speculation expressed in the form of a judgment (or judgments) of something, for example, the “anticipation of nature” in the formulation of laws of natural science. The original meaning of the term “hypothesis” has become part of the notion of “scientific hypothesis,” expressing a preliminary judgment about regular, or causal, relationships.
According to I. Kant, a hypothesis is not idle speculation, but an opinion about the real status of things, worked out under the strict supervision of reason. As one means of explaining facts and observations—experimental data—a hypothesis is most often worked out according to the rule “What we want to explain is analogous to what we already know.” Any scientific hypothesis begins with a cognitive question, for example: “If heavenly bodies are subject to the law of free falling, then why is the motion of the planets possible?” The question expresses the need of cognition, or passing from nonknowledge to knowledge, and it arises when certain data are available for answering it—facts, additional theories or hypotheses, and so forth. In this sense a scientific hypothesis, in keeping with its gnoseological role, is a connecting link between “knowledge” and “nonknowledge” (hence the role of the hypothesis in processes of scientific discovery) and, in keeping with its logical role, is “a form of development of natural science, since it has to do with thought” (F. Engels, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20, p. 555). A description of a hypothesis as a basic form of cognitive mastery of the world reflects not only its role in natural science, but also and equally its role in the social sciences. An example is the hypothesis of materialism in sociology advanced by K. Marx. In Lenin’s words, this hypothesis first raised sociology to the rank of a science (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1, pp. 136-37, 139-40).
In order to be scientific, a hypothesis must satisfy several requirements. First, it should be verifiable (at least in principle), that is, the consequences adduced from it by logical deduction should be submitted to experimental verification and should correspond to the results of experiments, observations, and available factual material. Therefore, science tends to give a hypothesis a precise logical (mathematical) formulation so that it can be included as a general principle in a deductive system, and the results of deduction can later be compared with the results of observations and experiments. A purely logical “skeleton” of the procedure for introducing hypotheses in a deductive proof and eliminating them is provided, for example, by the rules of so-called natural logical deduction. The methodological techniques for confirming a hypothesis and particularly its likelihood at a given level of knowledge are studied in inductive and probability logic in the theory of statistical solutions. The second requirement for a hypothesis is that it be sufficiently general and have sufficient predictive force—that is, it should explain not only those phenomena whose observation gave rise to it but also all related phenomena. In addition, it should serve as the basis for drawing conclusions about unknown phenomena (a characteristic, in particular, of so-called mathematical hypotheses). The third requirement is that a hypothesis not be logically contradictory. By the rules of logic, any conclusions can be drawn from a contradictory hypothesis—both those verifiable in the sense of the first requirement and their negations. A contradictory hypothesis is deliberately devoid of cognitive value. The first and second requirements distinguish scientific hypotheses from so-called working hypotheses, which are intended only for the “tentative explanation” of a given phenomenon and do not claim to reflect the “true state of affairs.” Working hypotheses are often used as intermediary links in scientific constructions because of their didactic value.
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