The simple question arises: If an abductive step is taken by the inquirer, then what?
A very good question. Susan Awbrey and I tried our hands at answering the What Next? question in the medium of analyzing Dewey’s “Sign of Rain” example. Here is the relevant excerpt from “Interpretation as Action : The Risk of Inquiry”.
The Pattern and Stages of Inquiry
To illustrate the place of the sign relation in inquiry we begin with Dewey’s elegant and simple example of reflective thinking in everyday life:
A man is walking on a warm day. The sky was clear the last time he observed it; but presently he notes, while occupied primarily with other things, that the air is cooler. It occurs to him that it is probably going to rain; looking up, he sees a dark cloud between him and the sun, and he then quickens his steps. What, if anything, in such a situation can be called thought? Neither the act of walking nor the noting of the cold is a thought. Walking is one direction of activity; looking and noting are other modes of activity. The likelihood that it will rain is, however, something suggested. The pedestrian feels the cold; he thinks of clouds and a coming shower. (Dewey 1991, 6–7).
In this narrative we can identify the characters of the sign relation as follows: coolness is a Sign of the Object rain, and the Interpretant is the thought of the rain’s likelihood. In his 1910 description of reflective thinking Dewey distinguishes two phases, “a state of perplexity, hesitation, doubt” and “an act of search or investigation” (Dewey 1991, 9), comprehensive stages which are further refined in his later model of inquiry. In this example reflection is the act of the interpreter which establishes a fund of connections between the sensory shock of coolness and the objective danger of rain, by way of his impression that rain is likely. But reflection is more than irresponsible speculation. In reflection the interpreter acts to charge or defuse the thought of rain (the probability of rain in thought) by seeking other signs which this thought implies and evaluating the thought according to the results of this search.
Figure 2 illustrates Dewey’s “Rain” example, tracing the structure and function of the sign relation as it informs the activity of inquiry, including both the movements of surprise explanation and intentional action. The dyadic faces of the sign relation are labeled with just a few of the loosest terms that apply, indicating the “significance” of signs for eventual occurrences and the “correspondence” of ideas with external orientations. Nothing essential is meant by these dyadic role distinctions, since it is only in special or degenerate cases that their shadowy projections can maintain enough information to determine the original sign relation.
If we follow this example far enough to consider the import of thought for action, we realize that the subsequent conduct of the interpreter, progressing up through the natural conclusion of the episode — the quickening steps, seeking shelter in time to escape the rain — all of these acts form a series of further interpretants, contingent on the active causes of the individual, for the originally recognized signs of rain and for the first impressions of the actual case. Just as critical reflection develops the associated and alternative signs which gather about an idea, pragmatic interpretation explores the consequential and contrasting actions which give effective and testable meaning to a person’s belief in it.