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A hypothesis (from Greek ὑπόθεσις; plural hypotheses) is a proposed explanation for an observable phenomenon. The term derives from the Greek, ὑποτιθέναι – hypotithenai meaning "to put under" or "to suppose." For a hypothesis to be put forward as a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it. Scientists generally base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot satisfactorily be explained with the available scientific theories. Even though the words "hypothesis" and "theory" are often used synonymously in common and informal usage, a scientific hypothesis is not the same as a scientific theory. A working hypothesis is a provisionally accepted hypothesis.

In a related but distinguishable usage, the term hypothesis is used for the antecedent of a proposition; thus in proposition "If P, then Q", P denotes the hypothesis (or antecedent); Q can be called a consequent. P is the assumption in a (possibly counterfactual) What If question.

The adjective hypothetical, meaning "having the nature of a hypothesis," or "being assumed to exist as an immediate consequence of a hypothesis," can refer to any of these meanings of the term "hypothesis."



In its ancient usage, hypothesis also refers to a summary of the plot of a classical drama.

In Plato's Meno (86e–87b), Socrates dissects virtue with a method used by mathematicians,[1] that of "investigating from a hypothesis."[2] In this sense, 'hypothesis' refers to a clever idea or to a convenient mathematical approach that simplifies cumbersome calculations.[3] Cardinal Bellarmine gave a famous example of this usage in the warning issued to Galileo in the early 17th century: that he must not treat the motion of the Earth as a reality, but merely as a hypothesis.[4]

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