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

Roger Critchlow rec at elf.org
Sun Mar 25 10:47:00 EDT 2018

I just borrowed Kwame Anthony Appiah's new book from the library:  As If --
Idealization and Ideas

Life is a constant adjustment between the models we make and the realities
> we encounter.  In idealizing we proceed "as if" our representations were
> true, while knowing they were not.

-- rec --

On Sun, Mar 25, 2018 at 10:37 AM, Eric Charles <
eric.phillip.charles at gmail.com> wrote:

> Glen, spot on! Some of this I can hazard some thought on.
> 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.
> You might well, as did Descartes, *imagine *that you doubt everything, as
> an intellectual exercise. But you cannot actually doubt everything, because
> to do so would be preemptively dysfunctional in all possible ways. You do
> not type on your keyboard as if it might disappear at any moment. You do
> not wonder if the world might be destroyed unless you flick every light
> switch you pass exactly 24 times. Etc., etc.. As a practical matter, much
> that in-principle could be doubted is not doubted as you go about your day
> to day life. Were you actively doubting any significant portion of that
> stuff on a continuous in-the-moment basis, you would be suffering from a
> particularly acute variety of what we now call a "mental breakdown." Peirce
> likely isn't thinking about things that minute, however. Probably his line
> of thinking flows, to a significant extent, out of the Emersonian tradition
> of American thought. We find ourselves where we find ourselves, and though
> we may change quite a bit over a lifetime, at any given moment in our
> lives, if we assess ourselves with simple honesty, we will find that there
> are some things we are unable to seriously doubt. Emerson could not find it
> in himself to doubt that slavery was bad. He also, prior to the Fugitive
> Slave Act, could not find it in himself to doubt that he had no basis for
> dictating how people so far away, living in such a different world, should
> live their lives. The Fugitive Slave Act forced inadvertently slavery into
> his world as a matter of practical course, and thereafter he could not
> doubt that he had a firm basis for opposing slavery throughout the country.
> Could he have imagined doubting those things as an intellectual exercise,
> yes. Could he actually doubt them and live his life in fundamentally
> different ways in those moments? No. They *were *his beliefs, and, as a
> practical matter, he could not doubt them.
> As for the "grades of certainty" issue, I don't think Peirce is trying to
> say that such things do not exist. I think he is merely pointing out that
> he is not using the term "belief" for the far extreme on a graded scale. He
> is not contrasting absolute doubt with absolute belief, but rather he is
> discussing things that are more or less doubted, and whatever the
> particular context, a "thing less doubted" is a "thing more believed."
> In this context, a community of scientists is composed of people who
> believe various things about a subject matter to various extents, and are
> willing to act upon those beliefs in a research context. (That is, of
> course, only one of many important qualities.) In one of his earliest major
> works, "The Fixation of Belief", Peirce lays out many ways that one might
> fixate beliefs, i.e., cease to doubt. The primary merit of the scientific
> method of fixating belief, he argues, is that it is the only approach that
> cares what is true. Combining that with your observations here, we see the
> interesting tension where the scientist must believe something before they
> can engage in the scientific process, but she must also be prepared to
> change that belief fairly readily if the evidence changes. Note the
> similarity with Emerson and slavery. In Emerson's case the circumstances
> changed, and his beliefs adjusted to a new world. In the scientists case
> the available knowledge changes, but the needed adjustment is of identical
> kind.
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