Peirce Philosophy

Peirce: Settled Opinion

I am working my way through Chapter 3 of Atkin’s book, where Peirce’s accounts of inquiry and truth are discussed. Very briefly, Peirce introduces belief and doubt as two complementary concepts, and he relates both of them to activity. To believe is to have grounds for a particular set of activities. By contrast, to doubt is to lose those grounds. To doubt, therefore, is to lose one’s capacity for action (Why is it, then, that doubt urges us to act? See, for example, our recent commentary [Gozli & Gao [2019], which entertains an opposite viewpoint).

[30/5/2019: After consulting, The Fixation of Belief, I can state that Peirce’s treatment of belief and doubt in relation to activity is more than reasonable. E.g., “Doubt (…) stimulates us to inquiry until it is destroyed”. (J. Buchler’s collection, 1955, p. 10)]

Moving on, Peirce then offers four sources for moving from doubt to belief.

  • Tenacity: a type of stubbornness; holding on to one’s belief despite countervailing experience
  • Authority: using someone else’s fixed position; giving oneself license to dismiss the countervailing experience
  • A priori reasoning [theory]: working through accepted axioms, step-by-step, and being guided by the principle of coherence among one’s beliefs. Peirce dismisses this, regarding it as inferior to the final source, due to our susceptibility to stipulate a priori positions as a matter of taste. Thus, a priori reasoning can fall prey to aesthetic our implicit aesthetic biases.
  • Science: Letting experience guide one’s beliefs; with the assumption that different people–all following this principle–would eventually converge on a common set of conclusions.

The critique of a priori reasoning seems to contradict Peirce’s hierarchy of fields, with aesthetics being a super-ordinate field (relative to logic and ethics). If aesthetics occupies the highest order in the normative sciences, why is it an insurmountable source of bias in relation to scientific inquiry?

I am not sure how falling prey to aesthetic choices is something we can avoid, even in scientific fields. Is it because science is a collective endeavor and theoretical work is done by lone individuals? But that is not necessary. Theoretical work can benefit from the presence of others trying to overcome similar doubts. Perhaps Peirce believes that in science matters of aesthetics can be adjudicated by a different type of (non-aesthetic) propositions, whereas that is not available in theoretical reasoning.

Further developing the similarities and differences between the four sources, the four ways of settling (or, de-unsettling) opinion, would benefit from considering repression. Here, I am thinking particularly of Michael Billig’s 1999 Freudian Repressions.

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