In anticipation of certain kinds of naturalized epistemologies, Peirce's claim is that truth is not to be discussed in lofty transcendental terms, but rather, in the more humdrum terms of inquiry, belief, doubt and experience. (Ibid.: 41)According to Misak, Peirce's specification of the consequences of truth amounts to the following:
An expectation is expressed by a subjunctive conditional: if H is true, then we would expect that if you were to do x, y would result. Peirce suggests that we would expect the following if H is true: if we were to inquire into H, we would find that H would encounter no recalcitrant experience. We can predict that if we were diligently to inquire about H, H would not, in the end, be overturned by experience. [...] A true belief is a permanently settled belief. (Ibid.: 42)Because Peirce explicates the meaning of 'truth' in this way, we must rely on a conception of inquiry as belief fixation in order to understand what 'truth' means. Hence the question arises: which method of inquiry should we adopt? In his well-known paper The Fixation of Belief(1877; W3: 242-256), Peirce distinguishes four methods of belief-fixation. It is not clear at the outset which of these methods should count as the right one in order to bring about "permanently settled beliefs." This is the central problem of my paper: Why should we adopt the scientific method?
The problem with Peirce's construal of the aim of inquiry (as the settlement of belief) is that it seems to suggest that an inquiry is anything that makes a hypothesis stick in an inquirer's head and a belief is anything that sticks. And since he holds that hypotheses that would be believed at the end of inquiry would be true, what is true seems to depend on what methods are efficient in making hypotheses stick. But if we take the notion of fixing belief seriously, then it becomes clear that the specious methods are not methods of fixing belief. They might fix some other mental state, but only the method of science and reasoning can fix genuine belief. (Misak 1991: 59)Thus, Misak distinguishes between "genuine belief" and "some other mental state." And she argues that, if the conception of "truth" is explicated only in reference to "genuine beliefs," the problem of the right method can be eliminated. That is because "genuine belief [...] must be sensitive to evidence or experience, broadly construed," (ibid.: 59) and therefore it necessarily results only from the scientific method. I think that at this point Misak is seriously mistaken. Instead of altering the concept of "belief," we should reconsider its original pragmatic meaning in order to justify the scientific method. At least, this is what Peirce himself tried in The Fixation of Belief.
This is an apt expression; it does not mean that which agrees with experience, but that which we find ourselves inclined to believe. (W3: 252; CP 5.382)This inclination is regulated and harmonized by discussion. The a priori method thus "shall not only produce an impulse to believe, but shall also decide what proposition it is which is to be believed." (W3, 252; CP 5.382) The method of science, as Peirce conceives it, is characterized in the first instance by its close relationship to experience (in a wide sense of "experience"; cf. Misak 1991: 21). According to Peirce, this relationship between science and experience on the methodical level goes along with the regulative "conception of reality" on the methodological level (that is, with the hypothesis of scientific realism; cf. W3, 254; CP 5.384).
The irritation of doubt causes a struggle to attain a state of belief. I shall term this struggle inquiry, though it must be admitted that this is sometimes not a very apt designation. (W3, 247; CP 5.374)Peirce's concept of inquiry thus includes all four methods of fixing belief. And I think that Peirce hesitates to use the word "inquiry" precisely because it suggests some kind of rationality and thus seems to exclude simple doubt-suppressing behaviours. This strategy, namely to rely on folk-psychological terms in order to explain theoretical conceptions, can also be found a few paragraphs earlier in The Fixation of Belief, where Peirce explains his conception of "reasoning," which is closely related to the scientific method. There he writes:
A moment's thought will show that a variety of facts are already assumed when the logical question is first asked. It is implied, for instance, that there are such states of mind as doubt and belief - that a passage from one to another is possible, the object of thought remaining the same, and that this transition is subject to some rules which all minds are alike bound by. As these are facts which we must already know before we can have any clear conception of reasoning at all, it cannot be supposed to be any longer of much interest to inquire into their truth or falsity. (W3: 246; CP 5.369)In this passage, Peirce argues that the pragmatic explication of what is meant by "reasoning," that is the explication of what can be reasonably expected from reasoning, must rely on some folk-psychological concepts and common-sense theories in order to lead to a clear conception. In other words: you must have a "picture" of what it means to believe and to change one's beliefs in order to make sense of the concepts of reasoning and of inquiry generally.
Peirce needs, in order to preserve both the naturalism and the plausibility of his account of truth, a way of ruling out specious methods without begging the question. He needs to tell us why the products of specious methods would not be true and what is wrong with using them. (Misak 1991: 58)It would beg the question if Peirce were to introduce some normative concept of inquiry or the right way to fix one's belief. Such normativity would transcend the everyday need of stable beliefs (about the world and others) and would immediately affect Peirce's conception of truth. Misak puts it as follows:
But Peirce does not want to appeal to such normative notions; he must keep his account of truth naturalized. Methods of inquiry should be judged in terms of how well they promote the aim of inquiry; the only normativity Peirce is willing to countenance in evaluating methods of inquiry is that the means ought to promote the end. He says 'Any kind of goodness is the adaptation of its subject to its end ... I do not know that we shall find a more succinct statement of the principle of pragmatism than this.' (MS 313, p.11, 1903) (Misak 1991: 56)This is the situation: One of the four methods of fixing belief should be distinguished, but on the basis of its functioning as a means to an end - namely belief-fixation - and without appealing to additional normative standards.
Not only is the psychological hypothesis false, but even if it were true, it would not be effective. For judgments of the competence of others are always made relative to a body of background beliefs. Communities which have their beliefs settled by a religious authority, or by a charismatic guru, or by astrology, my adopt the principle 'doubt what competent others doubt', but those who do not believe what the pope, the guru, or the astrological charts dictate will be judged incompetent.[...] Some methods seem well equipped to insulate themselves from the effects of contrary opinions. (Misak 1991: 58)I take this objection to be motivated by the following consideration: if there are some - psychological and hence empirical - reasons to believe that one of the methods functions better than the others as a means to the end of fixing belief, there always could be other psychologico-empirical reasons against this assumption. Therefore, none of the four methods can be definitively ruled out on the basis of psychological reflections concerning their probable success.
Some methods, such as torture, clearly aim not at making people believe a certain hypothesis, but rather at making them decide to assent to it or say that they believe it. Other methods, such as brainwashing and authority, do, at first glance, seem to aim at getting people to believe, as opposed to merely saying that they believe. But the emphasis is on achieving a certain predetermined state in people. It is not an attempt to decide where the weight of evidence lies. And genuine belief, I suggest, must be sensitive to evidence or experience broadly construed. (Ibid.)Therefore, according to Misak, sensitivity to experience should be taken as a feature of the concept of beliefg. And, given that beliefsg are sensitive to experience only if fixed by a method which, too, is sensitive to experience, it follows that the scientific method is the only "genuine" method of fixing beliefg and should be adopted by inquirers. Q.E.D.
[...] it is conceivable I should believe something and yet not have reflected that it is a belief and not have thought of myself in reference to it, at all. The tendency to act in a certain way implies no thought of self, because even inanimate objects have tendencies to act. Neither does the absence of the irritation of doubt. (Of Reality (1872); W3: 50)(b) In order to explain his notion of belief, Peirce mentions an example, in which experience plays no role at all:
The Assassins, or followers of the Old Man of the Mountain, used to rush into death at his least command, because they believed that obedience to him would insure everlasting felicity. Had they doubted this, they would not have acted as they did. So it is with every belief, according to its degree. (W3: 247; CP 5.371)(c) Peirce speaks of every method mentioned in The Fixation of Belief as a "method of fixing belief," without further qualifying this use of the word "belief." (d) Peirce's "Ethics of Terminology" (Ethics of Terminology (1903); MS 478) prescribes to "regard it as needful to introduce new systems of expression when new connections of importance between conceptions come to be made out [...]." (Ibid.; CP 2.226) But there is no terminological distinction to be found in Peirce amongst different "modes" of beliefs. Therefore, it seems that Peirce does not regard this kind of distinction as helpful. (Cf. Pragmatism (1907); MS 318; CP 5.486)
When a person is said to act upon a certain belief the meaning is that his actions have a certain consistency; that is to say, that they possess a certain intellectual unity. (Chap. 5th (1873); W3: 76-77)Such ascriptions play a crucial role in what is usually called "folk-psychology." I cannot go into the details of the debate about folk-psychology and its justification. In our context, I only note that Peirce clearly does not doubt folk-psychological categories at the outset (this is a consequence of his Critical Common-sensism).
The normative principles are not being covertly disguised here; they are being explicitly recognized as being a part of what we take belief and inquiry to be. (Ibid.)But we simply do not have such a concept of belief. It is right that our common-sense or everyday notion of "inquiry" includes scientific methods. That is why Peirce hesitated to use the word "inquiry" for every method of fixing belief, as I argued in the previous section. But this is not true of the everyday use of "belief." On the contrary, we frequently explain some behavior by referring to beliefs which are not at all scientifically gathered or gathered in an experience-sensitive way. Think of Peirce's example of the Assassins. And we criticize beliefs if we think that they have not been gathered in the right way.
The naturalism which I attribute to Peirce is not a naturalism which eschews the normative. It is merely a naturalism which insists that truth is the product of inquiry, not something which outruns inquiry. But inquiry is laden with norms. (Ibid.)Even if this is right - and I am inclined to think that it actually is right -, it cannot justify Misak's proposal. But as it is right, it merits further consideration. This, among other things, will be done in the third and last section.
Our beliefs guide our desires and shape our actions. (W3, 247; CP 5.371)Thereby, he has already given an answer to the question which sort of consequences we should expect from hypothesis like "A believes p," namely consequences for A's actions. But to be more precise in respect to these consequences, we must rely on some (folk-) psychological framework. I would like to propose the following (which I think to be coherent with Peirce's general position).
Thus, both doubt and belief have positive effects upon us, though very different ones. Belief does not make us act at once, but puts us into such a condition that we shall behave in a certain way, when the occasion arises. Doubt has not the least effect of this sort, but stimulates us to action until it is destroyed. (W3, 247; CP 5.373)Now, the "social impulse" which Peirce mentions in order to explain why the methods of tenacity and of authority fails to fix stable beliefs is not an isolated psychological fact, but inherent in the structure of belief and desire that serves to regulate human conduct. This structure is upheld by means of sign-systems and therefore by cooperation. In order to learn what to do or to develop their characteristically flexible system of conduct, humans must converse. And it is hard to unlearn this "social impulse" and to shut oneself off as against any validity-claim.
Communities which have their beliefs settled by a religious authority, or by a charismatic guru, or by astrology, may adopt the principle 'doubt whatever competent others doubt', but those who do not believe what the pope, the guru, or the astrological charts dictate will be judged incompetent. If the community is homogeneous enough, the psychological principle will never be put into action so as to to topple the method of authority. (Misak 1991: 58)There certainly are such methods of immunization, but they need to be upheld by sophisticated institutions, etc. Whether these could be stronger than the structures of cooperation which underlie their very functioning, is an open question. But I think that there is much empirical evidence which indicates that in the long run, all closed societies undergo historical changes, due to the need for adaptation. (The promises of success have to be redeemed.)
A man [...] should consider that, after all, he wishes his opinions to coincide with the fact, and that there is no reason why the results of these three methods should do so. To bring about this effect is the prerogative of the method of science. (W3, 256; CP 5.387)What is the force of this argument? And is it a valid argument at all? This shall be discussed subsequently.
The point is that rules and particular inferences alike are justified by being brought into agreement with each other. A rule is amended if it yields an inference we are unwilling to accept; an inference is rejected if it violates a rule we are unwilling to amend. (Goodman 1954: 64)As mentioned in connection with a quotation from Misak, Peirce does not accept anything as a source of normativity except the means-end-relationship. That does not mean that normativity is excluded but rather that it must be justified in a special way, e.g. in the quasi-circular way Goodman describes in the quoted passage. And this, besides, is how Peirce understands his own logical efforts:
In studying logic, you hope to correct your present ideas of what reasoning is good, what bad. This, of course, must be done by reasoning; and you cannot imagine that it is to be done by your accepting reasonings of mine which do not seems to you to be rational. If must, therefore, be done by means of the bad system of logic which you at present use. [...] The question is whether, using that somewhat unsatisfactory logica utens, you can make out wherein it must be modified, and can attain to a better system. (Minute Logic. II.2. Why Study Logic? (1902); MS 428; CP 2.191)Therefore, Misak is right in saying that Peirce's naturalism "is not a naturalism which eschews the normative." (Misak 1991: 65) However, "inquiry is laden with norms" not because of how we think about inquiry and belief (our concepts) but because only in following certain rules it can fulfill its end, namely to furnish reliable beliefs.
[...] the question of validity is purely one of fact and not of thinking. (W3: 244; CP 5.365)
A man may go through life, systematically keeping out of view all that might cause a change in his opinions, and if he only succeeds [...] I do not see what can be said against his doing so. (W3: 249; CP 5.377; my emphasis, S.K.)The only reason is that no such method (nor the methods of authority or a priori) will succeed, because they are not well adapted to their end, namely, to fix stable beliefs, beliefs that can fulfill their mental and social role despite of the varying historical circumstances. (Cf. [Investigation and the Settlement of Opinion] (1872); W3: 17) That is, beliefs which will exclude (unpleasant) surprise. Since we know from experience that our actual beliefs are not stable in this sense, we need a method that can correct them in an appropriate way. And since even beliefs about the right method are fallible, this method must be self-corrective. Therefore, we should adopt the scientific method, because, as Rescher puts it:
The method of science is self-corrective in this crucial sense: that the subordinate methods can be revised on the basis of their performance. (Rescher 1995: 105)One may object to this argument because it already assumes the standpoint of those who know and use the scientific method: what about the closed societies, the a priori thinkers, etc.? But if we are not looking for a priori reasons, it can be answered that their failure has motivated the historical development of the scientific method. And since the only reason for adapting or rejecting a method can be its success, now we should go for the scientific method.14 In this regard, Peirce's psychological and sociological arguments can be seen as a rational reconstruction of the history of belief-fixing methods.15 I speak of a rational reconstruction, because, as mentioned above, Peirce in his arguments characteristically mingles empirical and normative considerations. It seems that the adoption of different methods of fixing belief goes along with a cognitive progress, with a better understanding of one's ends and means.
Everybody uses the scientific method about a great many things, and only ceases to use it when he does not know how to apply it. (W3: 254; CP 5.384)I take this passage to express that experience plays a crucial role in our everyday practice, where doubt arises when beliefs become inapplicable. Now, once the sequence of belief-shaped action —> provocation of doubt —> doubt —> inquiry —> new belief —> new action is understood, it can be separated from the individual's psychological processes and from process of proximal social interaction and institutionalized; in the spirit of modern division of labour. That, then, is science. The central advantage of the institutionalization lies in the relative independence of belief-testing from the individual's fate.
[the scientific method, S.K.] is the only one of the four methods which presents any distinction of a right and a wrong way. [...] The test of whether I am truly following the method is not an immediate appeal to my feelings and purposes, but, on the contrary, itself involves the application of the method. (W3: 254-255; CP 5.385)This is what has been mentioned above under the title of the 'self-correctivity' of the method of science. What Peirce probably wants to suggest with his remark is that his own (and our) endeavor to distinguish one method of fixing belief on the basis of its functioning as a means to an end, and not on some other grounds, already presupposes a critical, self-corrective method. The choice of any other method would have prevented the very beginning of the search. He who decides in our time to adopt the methods of tenacity, authority or a priori is suspected by Peirce of being "insane," because - voluntarily or involuntarily - he does not take into account all the information that is available to him.
1 I would like to thank Cheryl Misak and Anke Scholz for their comments and corrections.
2 Misak rightly sees that, according to Peirce, "other methods of inquiry go hand in hand with other conceptions of the aim of inquiry and truth." (Misak 1991: 63; cf. How to Make Our Ideas Clear (1878); W3: 272-273) Therefore, the point is not what truth is, but which conception of truth we should accept in the light of our aims and our experiences. In the present paper, however, I am following another line of thought.
3 More precisely, Misak writes: "But notice that only some of the methods Peirce mentions are methods of investigation or methods of finding things out. The others are methods of getting others to believe a certain hypothesis or methods which involve deciding to adhere to a certain hypothesis. They are methods of instilling a predetermined belief." (Misak 1991: 64)
4 "It arises from an impulse too strong in man to be suppressed, without danger of destroying the human species." (W3: 250; CP 5.378)
5 "This conception, that another man's thought or sentiment may be equivalent to one's own, is a distinctly new step, and a highly important one. [...] so that the problem becomes how to fix belief, not in the individual merely, but in the community." (W3: 250; CP 5.378)
6 "Peirce goes some way to making the psychological hypothesis plausible by suggesting that, because inquirers are members of a community, they utilize the results of other members. [...] We are so accustomed to utilizing these second-hand experiences that we think that 'one man's experience is nothing, if it stands alone. If he sees what others cannot, we call it hallucination.' (CP 5.402 n.2, 1893; see also [W] 3, 25, 1872.)" (Misak 1991: 58)
7 By the way, Peirce not only speaks of sanity in 1911 as suggested by Misak. In The Fixation of Belief (1877) he writes (my emphasis): "The man who adopts it [the method of tenacity, S.K.] will find that other men think differently from him, and it will be apt to occur to him, in some saner moment, that their opinions are quite as good as his own, and this will shake his confidence in his belief." (W3: 250; CP 5.378)
8 And probably even in the categories of scientific psychology.
9 Here I rely on Misak's lucid interpretation of the pragmatic maxim as a method for making clear the meaning of concepts. (Cf. Misak 1991: 25-35)
10 This was Alexander Bain's original definition, which was adopted by Peirce. (Cf. Pragmatism (1907); MS 318; CP 5.12)
11 Of course, these formulations are very rough.
12 Cf. Pragmatism (1907); MS 318; CP 5.480. Hence, the belief p (or some collection of beliefs) functions as a prediction of the results of action and must be capable of being expressed in this way. This short consideration again makes clear why Peirce's concept of belief is central to his pragmatism and cannot be reinterpreted in Misak's way without taking it out of the Peircean context.
13 For the sake of brevity, I omit every reference to Peirce's phenomenology.
14 Misak, again, objects: "Notice also that the fact that there is controversy in science would seem to make the method of science succumb to Peirce's psychological hypothesis as well. The 'results' of science are not unanimously believed among scientists." (Misak 1991: 58 n.24). But first, there really are important differences between "philosophic" (a priori) and "scientific" discussions. Second, stable beliefs are hoped to appear at the end of the scientific process, in the long run, not at the beginning. And third, science is supposed to be self-corrective.
15 The first part of The Fixation of Belief actually consists of some historical remarks on the development of logic and scientific methodology. And when explaining the final transition to the scientific method, Peirce writes: "And so from this, which has been called the a priori method, we are driven, in Lord Bacon's phrase, to a true induction." (W3: 253; CP 5.383; my emphasis)
Misak, Cheryl .J. 1991, Truth and the End of Inquiry: A Peircean Account of Truth. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Peirce, Charles Sanders. References to The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, eds., C. Hartshorne, P. Weiss and A. Burks (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931-1958), are indicated by "CP"; references to The Writings of Charles S. Peirce, eds. Moore, Kloesel, et al. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982- ), are indicated by "W"; manuscript references are to Richard S. Robin, Annotated Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Charles S. Peirce (Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1967), indicated by "MS".
Rescher, Nicholas, 1995. "Peirce on the Validation of Science", in: Peirce and Contemporary Thought. ed. Kenneth L. Ketner. New York 1995, 103-112.