[FRIAM] Peirce's "What Pragmatism is."

uǝlƃ ☣ gepropella at gmail.com
Fri Mar 16 17:17:19 EDT 2018

I anxiously await your annotations regarding this passage: "Suffer me to add one word more on this point—for, if one cares at all to know what the pragmaticist theory consists in, one must understand that there is no other part of it to which the pragmaticist attaches quite as much importance as he does to the recognition in his doctrine of the utter inadequacy of action or volition or even of resolve or actual purpose, as materials out of which to construct a conditional purpose or the concept of conditional purpose."

In the meantime, I'll (again) lodge my main objection to what Peirce seems to be laying out, in my naive understanding, regarding belief and doubt.  First, in response to his "But do not make believe; if pedantry has not eaten all the reality out of you, recognize, as you must, that there is much that you do not doubt, in the least", I absolutely reject that.  I do doubt everything.  But, as he mentions in Note <2>, his discussion here disallows "grades of certainty".  By disallowing that, he destroys any purpose or meaning that might otherwise exist in the entire essay.

I agree that belief is a habit, but disagree that it ever (completely) dissolves in any real sense.  It evolves.  Hence, even under this definition of doubt, if doubt is the complement of all the habits one has, then one's doubt is constantly evolving, just as belief is constantly evolving. The set of habits one does not exhibit (one's doubt) would be an immeasurably larger set than one's beliefs. Hence, it's reasonable to say that the evolution of doubt vanishes into obscurity or is, at least, imperceptible.  But the set of one's habits (beliefs) is, perhaps, small enough that its evolution is perceptible.

And it is this epistemic difference between beliefs and doubts that might cause Peirce to claim that there (always) exist things one does not doubt. But those of us (I'd claim everyone, but can't prove it) who _want_ to change our habits as often and as fast as possible, it is reasonable to claim that we doubt everything, because it is our goal to explore the space of possible (but not yet reified) beliefs. The word "want" is important, because I also do not assume that I have any control over my future actions. It certainly seems like I do. But I believe my actions exhibit the self-doubt one would expect from a tentative belief in one's self-control. And even my belief that my actions may not be self-controllable varies and evolves.

I admit that his conception of doubt as the absence of habit, is useful in the context of an experimenter having a sincere "lack of habitualized behavior" relying on the truth of the hypothesis. An experiment conducted as if it will validate the hypothesis is petitio principii, or what BC Smith called "inscription error" or "premature registration".

But, again, Peirce's rejection of gradations of belief/habituation prevent it from being very useful. In order to even conceive a hypothesis, one has to "believe it" a little bit ... to entertain its truth ... to suspend disbelief.  The ability to ask "what if?", to simulate, seems to destroy Peirce's belief/doubt framework and, hence, everything he builds on top of that infrastructure.

☣ uǝlƃ

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