On Holmes's Investigative Methodology
- Dear Sherlockians,
Please permit me to humbly add to the discussions on Sherlock Holmes’s method of investigation being discussed here.
Holmes’s – that is, Arthur Conan Doyle’s – method of investigation is actually a combination of philosophical suppositions and scientific reasoning. The process they follow adheres to the ‘theory of deduction’, which the sleuth once sums up as ‘when you have deducted all the impossibilities, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’. By physically journeying to the scenes of crime, collecting evidences like used cartridge-shells, foot-prints, specimens of dried blood-spots, materials from assassins’ dresses, and so on, Holmes broadens the premises in which he would forward his philosophical suppositions. The process of deduction is not always infallible, but as Marvin Farber discusses in his “The Method of Deduction and its Limitations” in “the Journal of Philosophy”, 27 (19), September 1930: 505-15, it is an important process of determining the probabilities. However, as Alex James, Robert Flickety, et al., write
in their article on Holmes’s investigative methodology, Holmes’s process also depends significantly on intuition, which is not a very reliable method. Steven Doyle and David Crowder add that “Holmes’s method of observation and deduction is based on the diagnostic technique of Doyle’s medical school teacher, Dr. Joseph Bell” (p. 36, “Sherlock Holmes for Dummies”, Hoboken: Wiley Publishing, 2010). What must also be remembered in this context that Doyle’s sense of Victorian complacency arising out of late-Victorian England’s fabulous imperialistic successes and prosperity, and his supposition that the detective, being a representative of the omnipotent and omniscient English colonisers (though Holmes has been identified by Leslie S. Klinger to be a Scot rather than an English), have also added up to present Holmes to general readers as an infallible decider. Interestingly, Christopher Redmond, in his (second edition) of “Sherlock
Holmes Handbook” (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2009, p.61) points out that Holmes, in spite of his professed ‘deductive processes’, almost always adheres to the process of induction – ‘moving from the specific to the general, from effect to cause’, and therefore, a straightforward identification of Holmes’s investigative methodology is not an easy one.
Pinaki Roy, Ph.D.,
Assistant Professor of English,
Rabindra Avenue, Rathbari More,
P.O. + District: Malda – 732 101,
West Bengal, India