Jonathan Langseth Phi466 Peirce’s On the Fixation of Belief In his essay, On the Fixation of Belief, C. S.

Peirce presents a unique portrayal of how it is that humans come to think logically, how belief, doubt and inquiry are manifest in human nature, and concludes, with qualifications, that the method of science affords the most advantageous approach to the settling of doubt into belief. The act of inquiry, of investigating the world with the hope of some resulting knowledge gained, or, with Peirce, “the struggle, caused by the irritation of doubt, to attain a state of belief” (Peirce, 126), has led to the use of reason (as the, usually unconscious, use of logic). Pierce cites practical gains from such use: “Logicality in regard to practical matters is the most useful quality an animal can possess, and might, therefore, result from the action of natural selection.” (Peirce, 123). One might wish to stop here by asking why wouldn’t we proceed logically, given or ability to do so. Yet Peirce proceeds to delve deeper into the forces at play behind the actual process of coming to an unsettled state of doubt, and a static, position of belief. Peirce notes that all inquiry rests on implicitly assumed premises. Yet the relation of premises to conclusions in the form of an argument, says Peirce, finds its validity in facts, not thought. This is an important claim that runs counter to the standard view of what

whether these facts are really so related that if A is. Whereas the traditional view says that an argument form is valid if and only if it is true under all interpretations (thus giving prevalence to the structure of an argument). But what of deduction? Is Peirce’s distinction between constitutional and acquired habits equivalent to the distinction between deductive and inductive reasoning? If so this would seem to suggest the Kantian distinction between a priori analytic and a posteriori synthetic forms of cognition. the inference is valid. If so. A being the premises and B the conclusion. not. (123) Peirce gives the name guiding principle of inference to any proposition formulated by a specific habit of mind that determines any inference. from the consideration of what we already know. whether it be constitutional or acquired. The habit is good or otherwise. from given premises. something else that we do not know. the question is. In order to grasp the importance of such a claim. It would seem from the above quote that Peirce is merely reiterating the Humean notion of how induction is derived from the experience of constant conjunction. and not of thinking. (122) And… That which determines us. to draw one inference rather than another. as constitutional. but according as the habit that determines it is such as to produce true conclusions in general or not.constitutes of valid argument. Consequently. the question of its validity is purely one of fact. predetermines the form and possibility of experience. Peirce says that: The object of reasoning is to find out. is some habit of mind. Thus. and not otherwise. if not. without reference to the truth or falsity of its conclusion specially. . the reasons for and the implications derived from this position are in need of further explication. The former. B is. reasoning is good if it be such as to give a true conclusion from true premises. according as it produces true conclusions from true premises or not. and an inference is regarded as valid or not.

These methods. naturally occurring impulses and drives that lead us to action in the world.the latter is derived out of experience through engagement with the world. This doubt. In other words the practical result of a belief or way of thinking determines whether that belief of way of thinking “works” or. what the pragmatists want to claim is the same. This explains why Peirce likens the use of logical thought to natural selection—logic is the best means (so far) of getting along in the world. the a . as should become apparent. which in a state of uncertainty is the conjunction between our needs/wants and the world by which such needs and wants are to be gratified. of authority. Yet one could also interpret constitutional habits as those basic. such as hunger and desires. Confronting the unknown places us in doubt. if how our doubts and beliefs lead us to act in order to appease the wants and needs essential for life are not successful. Peirce proceeds to outline four methods by which we may move from states of doubt to states of belief. is true. Naturally. These four methods are that of tenacity. it is probable that we would not exist. moves us to action in order to establish beliefs that will successfully satisfy the basic constitutional habits/impulses required for the furtherance of life. natural selection would have phased us out. all require a belief structure that is fixed in a community. Such an interpretation can further illuminate the relation between doubt and belief.

Peirce defines a clear idea “as one that is so apprehended that it will be recognized wherever it is met with. Although he grants each approach certain benefits. the method of tenacity is akin to the deriving of beliefs through traditions and customs. the method of authority comes from accepting or being forced to accept beliefs without personal experience to justify the beliefs. and distinct and confused conceptions. in the end Peirce regards the scientific method as the most successful method to date. which we discover through experimentation. and the scientific which presupposes a world of facts independent of our thought of them. In brief. and a distinct idea “as one that contains nothing that is not clear” (138). and so that no other will be mistaken for it” (137).priori method. I believe Peirce would argue that if we recognize how much science pervades our lives we have evidence of its superior methodology. On Peirce’s How to Make Our Ideas Clear The essay begins with the between clear and obscure conceptions. the a priori method by which foundational propositions guide one’s pursuance of belief. and the scientific method. . first brought under philosophical scrutiny by Descartes.

In Descartes we find the transition from the method of authority to the a priori method. This emphasis on habit focuses on the connection of self and world through action.what a thing means is simply what habits it involves” (145). This last property Peirce goes on to deem as the essence of belief. and conclude by proving “we come down to what is tangible and practical. From a historical point of view we could say this was also the slow transition into modernity. When someone has a belief. “…the whole function of thought is to produce habits of action” and “. as the root of every real distinction of thought” (145). and that they involve “the establishment in our nature of a rule of action. put forth in his essay On the Fixation of Belief. If it appears to work and no viable option is known to be available.. having .Utilizing the distinction of methods.e. In equally strong claims he says. Peirce gives an abridged rendition of how he sees the historical progression of an ever-increasing awareness of clarity in thought. a habit. In this essay Peirce wants to further develop his analysis of belief. that they erase doubt. this belief is tested through how that person proceeds in the world having that belief. we can say with Peirce that thought is at rest. Peirce says beliefs have three properties: our being aware of them. and the belief is true. a transition arguably beginning with Bacon and Hobbes.” i. In Peirce’s day the western world was in the midst of finalizing the transition from a priori method to the scientific method. show belief’s dependence on habit..

beliefs are produced and maintained or challenged. unchallenged. subside from consciousness and guide our decisions throughout experience.meaning to the extent that the belief produces results or successful action. creates habits which. The persistence of belief. typically. If a competing belief produces precisely the same practical result as an already established belief. the two beliefs are equal in all discernable regards. doubt may arise. by their practical consequences. Thus. . by how they enable us to get along in the world. If a particular belief is challenged by a new experience or competing belief.