You are on page 1of 24

Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry: Another Reading of "Fixation"

Author(s): T. L. Short
Source: Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Winter, 2000), pp. 1-23
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL:
Accessed: 13-06-2018 23:11 UTC

Linked references are available on JSTOR for this article:
You may need to log in to JSTOR to access the linked references.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide
range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and
facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at

Indiana University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access
to Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
TL. Short

Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry:

Another Reading of "Fixation"

No essay of Peirce's has been more often read and commented upon than
these two: "The Fixation of Belief and its sequel, "How to Make Our Ideas
Clear." Yet the very meaning of the former paper has remained a subject of con
troversy. What it is that Peirce meant to show, how he attempted to show it,
whether he succeeded, and whether he retained or rejected the gist of "Fixation"
in his later work ? all these have received the most diverse accounts, and none of
them are the same as that account which I shall offer here.
This essay is part of a larger project, that of showing Peirce was a thorough
going antifoundationalist. By 'thoroughgoing antifoundationalism', I mean three
things. First, I mean the rejection of foundationalism in even its weakest forms.
These are views, currentiy popular, to the effect that, while no belief is beyond
possible correction by other beliefs, some beliefs are justified (partially or defeasi
bly) without being justified by other beliefs; they may be claimed to be corrigibly
self-evident or to be pardy warranted by nonpropositional experience or to be
justified, to a degree, in yet some other way not involving logical relations to
other beliefs. Second, I mean the rejection of foundationalism not only with re
spect to the sources of knowledge but also with respect to the methods and aims
of inquiry. The idea is that not even the methods and aims of inquiry are beyond
criticism and revision in light of the results of inquiry. Third, I mean the rejection
of relativism and skepticism, ergo, the affirmation of the possibility, and indeed
the actuality, of objective inquiry and objective knowledge. One who, on the
ground that there are no foundations for knowledge, is a relativist, agrees with
foundationalists that foundations are necessary if we are to have knowledge. A
thoroughgoing antifoundationalist maintains that objectivity is possible without
foundations. I will not, in this essay, defend the view that Peirce was a thorough
going antifoundationalist. But I will attempt to show that "Fixation" presents an
antifoundationalist account of the aims and methods of inquiry.

The foundationalist generally has some specific foundations in mind: pure
reason or sense experience as the source of knowledge, deduction or induction or

Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society

Winter, 2000, Vol. XXXVI, No. 1

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
2 T.L. Short

something else as the method of inquiry, truth or perhaps utility as th

the foundationalist proclaimed his favored foundations as the necessary
tion of all inquiry and all valid argument, then his ability to defend hi
would be limited to arguments that he himself would probably have to
circular. Such a foundationalism, rather than guaranteeing objectivity, wou
tail objectivity. For it would put the very foundations of inquiry beyond a
sible question, criticism, or justification. The foundationalist, like the relat
would end up a dogmatist. For, on his own account, he can have no rea
his views other than that they are his; the method he is committed to
the method Peirce named 'tenacity'.
But foundationalists generally make a distinction between science a
losophy, between the form of inquiry for which they are laying the found
and the form of argument by which they explain and defend those founda
That is the old view of philosophy as the Queen of the Sciences. It has th
of limiting the scope of foundationalism: not all of inquiry and argument r
foundations, only science does. But if philosophy has no foundations, t
cannot other forms of inquiry be foundationless also? Contemporary in
"naturalized" epistemology tends in that direction: by making philos
pendent on science, rather than the reverse, it leaves science foundationless
is, philosophical.
Such, I shall argue, was Peirce's view. But not in the man
"epistemology naturalized." For the latter, at least in typical formulat
nores the philosophical dimension of science, because it denies philosop
gether. As has often been remarked, if epistemology is, as Quine onc
should be, a department of psychology, then it cannot address normati
tions about how inquiry ought to proceed; at least, it cannot without ei
cularity or incoherence address basic normative questions.1 But philoso
be dependent on advances in science in another way than by building on th
clusions of scientific inquiry: it can analyze the methods that have been dev
and, without assuming the validity of those methods or truth of the re
tained by their means, it can take into account the fact that those methods
had those results. More will be said, or shown, about such arguments as
ceed. For the present, notice only that it is one thing to say that phil
cannot address normative questions of method in abstraction from the
which inquiry has actually developed; it is another to say, as in episte
naturalized, that philosophers should only build on science's latest theor
ing them as true.
Peirce wrote, in 1877, that "each chief step in science has been a les
logic" (3:243).2 Again, sixteen years later: "But the method of science is
scientific result" (6.428).3 If scientific method ? what counts as data,
counts as good reasoning, what counts as good questions and good answ
itself a product of science, then science, as it proceeds, revises the gro
which it works. These two statements by Peirce go a great way toward

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry: Another Reading of "Fixation" 3

that he was antifoundationalist with respect to method. The first is drawn from
the essay, "The Fixation of Belief," famously adumbrating four methods of fixing
belief. That essay, I submit, is important most of all for the form in which it is
written; for that form exhibits the manner in which revisions of method are
prompted by the experience of following a method.
I speak here of methods alone, as Peirce did in "Fixation"; but, as we shall
see, choice of method can also be a choice of aim, and it is aim more than
method that is at issue in that essay. Indeed, I suggest that the four major inter
pretative problems "Fixation" poses can be solved only on the assumption that
Peirce's fundamental intent was to establish inquiry's aim. (What does that
mean ? to establish an aim? Vide infra.)
The first two problems are the peculiarity ? the seeming arbitrariness ? of
the set of methods selected for review, and the weakness of the supposed argu
ments advanced in behalf of the method Peirce favored, which he named 'the
method of science'. Murray G. Murphey, in his magisterial book on The Develop
ment ofPeirceys Philosophv, said that, "In several respects the paper on 'The Fixa
tion of Belief is one of the most curious and least satisfactory that Peirce ever
wrote." Murphey's chief complaints are that the list of four methods is unhistor
ical, arbitrary, ill-sorted, and incomplete and that Peirce provided no arguments
"worthy of the name."4 Six years later, A.J. Ayer was, if possible, still more severe
regarding Peirce's arguments, calling them fallacious, trifling, and disingenuous.5
The second two problems are a pair of seeming contradictions. Whereas
Peirce began by saying that the aim of inquiry is to fix belief, he ended by espous
ing a method that, on his own account of it, indefinitely postpones the fixation of
belief. And whereas he began by saying that truth is no part of inquiry's aim, he
ended by claiming that the scientific method is to be preferred because it prom
ises to lead us to a truth that is independent of anyone's opinion. These seeming
contradictions, or tensions as they are sometimes more politely described, have
elicited a variety of reactions, from Israel Scheffler's outright condemnation of
Peirce's supposed argument, to Peter Skagestad's attempt to show that Peirce
unwittingly switched from "a causal, evolutionary story" to "a normative story,"
to Christopher Hookway's similar attempt to show that Peirce flubbed the dis
tinction he elsewhere made between theoretical assent and practical belief, be
cause "in 1877 he lacked the resources to formulate [those] issues."6
These four problems are so closely related, it will not be possible to solve
first one, then another; they are solved together or not at all. It is convenient,
however, to begin with a comment on Peirce's supposed arguments. One might
say that in "Fixation," Peirce tried to show that tenacity, authority, and a priori
reasoning are inferior to the scientific method. And one would not be wrong in
saying this, and yet it is a misleading statement, in two ways. For it suggests that
there is a stable criterion or goal against which the adequacy of those methods
may be judged. And it suggests that Peirce made or pretended to make a
straightforward argument showing that the first three methods fail to satisfy that

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
4 T.L. Short

criterion or to fulfill that goal as well as the scientific method does. Supp
however, that no such criterion or goal is given; suppose that the aim of inqui
is part of what is at issue. Then what would count as an argument for or again
any of these methods?
In an argument, the premisses, if true, are meant to justify the conclusion
Enthymeme aside, it's all on the page. It's all in what is said. If, by contrast, I
"Go look at that flower: it is blue," it is your experience of looking at the flow
and not what I say (or not that alone), that leads you to agree with me. T
not an argument, but it works just as well, or better, to convince you.
Peirce's way of showing the inadequacy of the first three methods of fixin
belief was like that. Or something like it; for there is a difference between ob
ing an effect on someone else and experiencing that effect oneself. If wat
another suffer pain from sunburn is not enough to convince you to take due p
cautions henceforth, suffering that pain yourself may suffice. Nor should you
precautions if you are not subject to that condition yourself. So also with a
the values and maxims experience ? or history, or literature ? can teach: o
vation of others' tribulations is instructive only insofar as we can imagine that
experience would be like their's were we to act similarly. Observation is only o
type of experience.
Peirce presented a simplified or idealized, even largely fictional, histor
using each of the first three methods, a history in which those methods fail t
belief. But this is not an argument from history. If it were, then its extremely
plified or fictional form would invalidate it. And, blinking that objectio
would prove only that the methods had failed, and not that they will continue
do so or should do so. Rather, the reader is meant to see for himself that
methods would fail in his case also, and as an effect of the same causes, we
to try them. Peirce did not give us reasons to agree with him. Instead, he refe
to the experience of using the methods in question. The only way to fo
Peirce's "argument," if we are to call it that, is to imagine having the experien
he described and confirming that they would lead us, too, to reject the me
in question.

Take the method of tenacity, of one's clinging to a belief simply beca
his. "This simple and direct method is really pursued by many me
wrote, later adding of such a man, "... and if he only succeeds [i.e., in
belief by this method] ... I do not see what can be said against
so" (3:249, my emphasis). So, there is no argument against tenacity
can successfully be said against the method to one who actually fixes
by it. As Peirce explicitiy ruled out the possibility of an argument, i
surprise that he made no argument ? or that his remarks, if one persist
them as arguments, should appear to be such miserable examples of that
But argument is not the only thing that can make one change his min

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry: Another Rending of "Fixation" 5

method. Peirce claimed that the method of tenacity

will be unable to hold its ground in practice. The social

impulse is against it. The man who adopts it will find
that other men think differendy from him ... and this
will shake his confidence in his belief. This conception,
that another man's thought or sentiment may be equiva
lent to one's own, is a distincdy new step .... It arises
from an impulse too strong in man to be suppressed ...

This is not an argument; it is a claim that experience defeats tenacity. And this
claim matters to us only if we recognize that that experience was or would be
ours, when we tried or were we to try the method of tenacity. To construe this
passage as presenting an argument is to make a hash of it.
In the first place, where did the social impulse come from? It pops up unan
nounced, like a rabbit out of a hat. Nothing is said to establish its existence or to
indicate that we are to assume it. But that's the point: it is not to be assumed
prior to rejecting the method of tenacity. We come upon this impulse in finding
that tenacity fails to fix our beliefs. We do not recognize the social impulse (qua
cognitive principle) in ourselves without experiencing the way others' contrary
opinions make us doubt our own. The method of tenacity does not fail because
of an argument from an assumption of a social impulse; it fails first and then, by
reflection on that failure, we discern a social impulse.
In the second place, an impulse cannot serve as a principle. It is a mere fact
and, without the addition of a principle, it can justify nothing. If it is only an im
pulse, why not resist it? Maybe it should be resisted, like most of the rest of our
impulses. Indeed, wouldn't someone with the strength of mind of say, Descartes,
spurn any opinion contrary to his own?7 More than the fact of an impulse is
needed to show that that impulse should be obeyed. How odd that anyone would
think that a philosopher of Peirce's quality might not see this. But what if the
impulse should prove to be too strong or too fundamental to be resisted consis
tendy? What if, in fact, it accounts for our accepting any principles at all? And
what if that were Peirce's point?
Thirdly, the social impulse, taken (wrongly) as a principle from which Peirce
argues, is so disappointing. It is so crude. But, again, crudity is part of the point:
the impulse, we shall find, is progressively refined and deepened through similar,
subsequent discoveries. It is not a principle that Peirce introduced as a premiss to
an argument; it is, rather, the first step in a process of discovery.
In consequence of that discovery, "the problem becomes how to fix belief,
not in the individual merely, but in the community" (3:250). Notice, here, it is
the goal that has changed. Before, the aim of inquiry was to fix my belief, now it
is to fix our belief. One might object that the goal is still to fix my own belief,

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
6 T.L. Short

only I discover that I can't do it if others' beliefs are not fixed similar
enough, though we are not yet at the end of our story. But even if the com
fixation is subordinate, as a goal, to the personal fixation, this is still a pro
revolution in our cognitive lives.
Hence the method of authority, the communal version of tenacity.
always accompanied by cruelty, this method "has over and over again work
most majestic results." And yet it fails, due to a wider version of the s
pulse, "a wider sort of social feeling," by which the contrary opinions
nations and centuries cause us to doubt our own (3: 251-2).

The willful adherence to a belief, and the arbitrary

forcing of it upon others, must, therefore, both be given
up, and a new method of settiing opinions must be
adopted, which shall not only produce an impulse to
believe, but shall also decide which proposition it is
which is to be believed. (3:252)

That a successful method of fixing belief, when actually employed, mu

mine the content of belief might also be said to be a "distinctiy new s
another revolution, as basic as the foregoing revolution. It is, however, but
ther development of the social impulse: it is a discovery that the deeper di
tion which that impulse represents is an aversion to all that is arbitrary. W
believe must not only not depend on my will, it must depend on no one's w
The first method to which we turn after the method of authority
priori method, or method of believing that which we are inclined to
(3:252) ? is said to fail precisely because it does not keep its promise of
[ing] our opinions of their accidental and capricious element" (3:253).
not do so, since "it makes inquiry something similar to the developm
taste," and one's taste, as it turns out, is not universal. As it turns out
could not know this apriori but only through experience.
To be sure, these remarks do not do justice to the attempts of ratio
and of Kant and others to mark out a realm of apriori knowledge. But
truths, if there are any, will not do the job, and other forms of the a prio
never gained much credibility. Furthermore, claims that this or that sy
judgment is a priori have not been sustained. Many thought that circu
tion is the simplest, hence that celestial orbits must be circular; they were
Descartes thought he saw by the light of reason that inertia is rectilin
now think that his hypothesis was only a lucky guess or a subjective prefer
that turned out to be correct; its proof is in the fit of its implications with
ence, and not in its mental origin. Peirce's talk of taste reduces a lot of his
a single word, but it is a history that is well-known. So I think that in thi
brevity may be excused.
But the main point, here, is that the social impulse is now confirme

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry: Another Reading of "Fixation" 7

ing, at bottom, an aversion to arbitrariness; the desire for consensus is merely

one manifestation of that aversion, which is why consensus achieved by coercion
or by fashion will not be satisfactory, either. What is retained of its initial charac
terization is that this attitude is rooted in human nature: it appears as an irresisti
ble demand that we find ourselves making. No doubt that can be explained by
the practical utility of beliefs that are non-arbitrary and by the selective retention
in human evolution of dispositions that promote non-arbitrary beliefs. But, as
we shall see, those dispositions transcend their practical origins. We find our
selves eschewing arbitrary belief even when its application is of no practical im
The failure of the a priori method exhausts human determinants of belief:
neither one's own will, nor the will of those in authority, nor the prevailing
prejudices suffices to fix our beliefs, and there is no synthetic a priori that is uni
versal and necessary, hence, distinct from prejudice.8

To satisfy our doubts, therefore, it is necessary that

a method should be found by which our beliefs may be
caused [Peirce later changed 'caused' to 'determined'9]
by nothing human, but by some external permanency ?
by something upon which our thinking has no effect...

Thus we come to the last of the four methods. "Such," Peirce continued,

is the method of science. Its fundamental hypothesis ...

is this: There are real things, whose characters are en
tirely independent of our opinions about them; these
realities affect our senses according to regular laws,
and ... by taking advantage of the laws of perception, we
can ascertain by reasoning how things really are, and any
man, if he have sufficient experience and reason enough
about it, will be led to the one true conclusion. The new
conception here involved is that of reality. (3:253-4)

Just as the failure of tenacity reveals a social impulse, so also this last lesson
in logic entails a new concept, that of reality. It should be noted, however, that
Peirce did not claim that the scientific method and associated concepts appear to
us out of nowhere. Rather, "Everybody uses the scientific method about a great
many things ..." (3: 254). Again, "The feeling which gives rise to any method
of fixing belief is a dissatisfaction at two repugnant propositions. But here al
ready is a vague concession that there is some one thing to which a proposition
should conform" (3:254). However, it is only with the failure of other methods
that we think of this practice as an alternative method, consciously formulate it,
and deliberately adopt it.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
8 T.L. Short

Although the fact is not mentioned in "Fixation," the scientific meth

long road and Peirce knew it. "Taking advantage of the laws of percept
quires framing conjectures and testing them against observation, but there
end either to conjectures or to tests. In an earlier series of essays, in 1
The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Peirce argued that induction cannot
lied upon to give us the right answer in the short run and, hence, that ind
reasoning has no validity for anyone who cannot conceive of himself as
ber of an indefinitely extended community of inquirers. But induction
sential part of scientific method; therefore, "... logic rigidly requires, befo
else, that no determinate fact, nothing which can happen to a man's self, s
be of more consequence to him than everything else. He who would no
fice his own soul to save the whole world, is illogical in all his inferences, c
tively" (2:270-1).
Thus, adoption of the scientific method has two revolutionary
quences. First, the fixation sought in inquiry is indefinitely postponed. An
clusion we come to is to be regarded as tentative, as subject to correction in
future; in some of his later writings, indeed, Peirce said that belief has no
in science (e.g., at 1.635, 7.606). Second, and as a corollary of the first,
of communal fixation of belief turns out not to be subordinate to personal
tion; instead, it itself is the goal of inquiry, to which our individual effort
beliefs must be subordinated. Peirce was fond of describing the life of the
tist in ethical terms and of finding Christian parallels in his metaphysics. I
vein, we might add that the revolutionary reorientation required wh
adopts the scientific method is like that conversion experience in which on
his soul in order to regain it. One's true self, it turns out, is to be found in
tion to a cause greater than oneself; at least, this is true so far as cogn
There is more to be said about the hypothesis Peirce named fundamental
and about the defense of scientific method that he proceeded to make. But let us
pause, now, to review the character of his discussion thus far.

Each of the first three methods could have been rejected on grounds of a
valid argument taking generally accepted principles as premisses. Granted that
truth is impersonal and that truth is the object of inquiry, then the first two
methods are obviously mistaken and the third is seen as mistaken once we admit
that there is no synthetic a priori. But Peirce cut himself off from this possibility
when he announced, early on, that

... the sole object of inquiry is the settlement of opinion.

We may fancy that this is not enough for us, and that we
seek, not merely an opinion, but a true opinion. But put
this fancy to the test, and it proves groundless; for as

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry: Another Reading of "Fixation" 9

soon as a firm belief is reached we are entirely satisfied ...


That is a statement which has annoyed many readers beyond endurance.

Why did Peirce make that remarkable claim? And why did he do so only to
conclude, a litde later, that, in effect, nothing but a method aimed at impersonal
truth will suffice to fix belief} Given his endpoint, he could have made the argu
ments mentioned above. Hence, if Peirce's aim had been to discredit the first
three methods, he went a cumbrous long way about the business. He adduced
bad arguments or no arguments for a conclusion none of his readers was likely
to deny and for which perfecdy good, if painfully obvious, arguments were read
ily available. Clearly, his concern was less with the methods themselves than with
the principles implicit in their rejection. My suggestion is that he wanted to
bring out the basis on which we have made impersonal truth inquiry's aim, and
on which we ought to continue doing so. And that is why he could not begin by
assuming that aim.
Peirce said as much himself, c. 1906:

My paper of November 1877, setting out from the

proposition that the agitation of a question ceases when
satisfaction is attained with the settlement of belief, and
then only, goes on to consider how the conception of
truth gradually develops from that principle under the
action of experience; beginning with willful belief, or self
mendacity, the most degraded of all intellectual condi
tions; thence rising to the imposition of beliefs by the
authority of organized society; then to the idea of settle
ment of opinion as the result of a fermentation of ideas;
and finally reaching the idea of truth as overwhelmingly
forced upon the mind in experience as the effect of an
independent reality. (5.564, my emphases)

But do we need to be told that this is what Peirce intended? There is no other
way to make sense of "Fixation."
Peirce's approach is naturalistic yet normative.10 He begins from the fact
that we are engaged in inquiry, that inquiry is part of the fabric of human life
and that institutionalized inquiry has become part of the fabric of society. He
does not assume that we fully understand what we are doing. A child learns to
walk without knowing what it is doing or why, and so also did we begin to in
quire, whether as individuals or as a race, without deliberation or conscious aim.
But the problem is not merely to articulate the principles and purposes implicit
in existing practice. Once we begin to inquire deliberately, we are free to vary
our methods and to adopt alternative purposes. Thus two points of great impor

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
10 T.L. Short

tance: normative questions arise naturally, and they are not reducible to ques
tions of fact. They do not reduce to questions of fact, because their resolution
depends on human choice. But human choices, though they can be arbitrary,
cannot be sustained regardless of human nature or regardless of the nature of the
world in which we exist.11
The one constant, presupposed in these normative questions, is that inquiry
is a process that proceeds from doubt, or unreadiness to act, to belief, or readi
ness to act. The questions, then, may be summed up under two heads: how
should belief be fixed and for what purpose? Should we inquire at all or, instead,
shall we sink into a reverie or seek oblivion? If we choose to inquire, shall we
seek to fix beliefs only in so far as they are needed for action or should we seek
beliefs also for their own sake? In either case, what kind of beliefs ? beliefs
meeting what criteria? Should each belief be one that is testable in action and
retained only as long as it stands up to such tests? That is not a question that has
already been resolved; for there are those today who, in some cases for good
though not perhaps indefeasible reasons, insist that beliefs also, or instead, con
form to theological or political tests.
And how are such issues resolved? How do purposes become fixed? Indi
viduals and societies adopt many purposes, most of them fleeting. We lose inter
est or we attain our desires and find them disappointing or find that they, or the
getting of them, conflict with something we want more. Neither tenacity nor
authority nor taste can fix a purpose for long. It may be some issues remain per
manendy open, that some possible purposes are perennial alternatives. By
'establishing a purpose' I do not mean adopting one, nor even adopting one
permanendy; rather, I mean showing that it is one that we cannot consistendy
ignore. Adopting a purpose is a practical act, even if the purpose is one of pure
theory, such as knowledge of the truth for its own sake. Establishing a purpose
is, instead, theoretical, even if the purpose is practical. Though theoretical, it has
practical import. To establish that impersonal truth is the object, or part of the
object, of inquiry, is to show that no one can succeed in seeking to fix beliefs by
such methods as tenacity and authority; sooner or later the inquirer will find that
he wants more. Hence Peirce's method in "Fixation": the question is, what will
be sustained in practice? With what method will we be content, once we have
experienced its results? The appeal is to experience, actual or vividly imagined.
Still, there is a hankering for apriori arguments; one might almost say that
philosophers have a professional bias toward them. Let me dispose of one possi
ble attempt to replace Peirce's appeal to experience by an argument. After hav
ing said that the fancy that we seek not merely an opinion but a true opinion is
groundless, Peirce went on to claim, "The most that can be maintained is, that
we seek for a belief that we shall think to be true. But we think each one of our
beliefs to be true, and, indeed, it is a mere tautology to say so." On that basis,
one might argue that truth is an aim implicit in the desire to fix belief and,
hence, that the first three methods must be rejected for the reasons given at the

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry: Another Reading of "Fixation" 11

beginning of this section.

But that would be to fail to recognize the depth of Peirce's discussion. Re
call its naturalism: inquiry develops before we have concepts of inquiry, belief,
reality, or truth. At what point do we form a concept of truth, and what could
that concept be? At some stage of selfconsciousness in inquiry, it becomes a tau
tology that we believe each of our beliefs to be true. But what, then, do we
mean by 'truth'? Ifit is a tautology that we believe each of our beliefs to be true,
then the method by which we think beliefs are to be fixed provides the only gen
eral characterization of truth that we can defend (the deflationary accounts of
truth are not characterizations in this sense). If we are still using the method of
tenacity, truth, for us, is simply what we want it to be; if the method of author
ity, it is what "they" want it to be; if the a priori method, truth is what is agree
able to reason, as some philosophers have maintained. Truth becomes imper
sonal by conception, only as we begin to adopt the method of science. If the ad
jective 'impersonal' seems redundant when applied to the noun 'truth', that is
only because we have already rejected such methods of fixing belief as tenacity
and authority. To argue against those methods from the premiss that truth is
impersonal is to beg the question.12
In this context, I should like to answer Murphey's charge that the four
methods are ill-sorted and unhistorical. My answer is simple: Peirce did not in
tend a history of methods. It is implausible that one so well versed in the history
of science would have blundered so badly as to have attempted to pass off that
list of four methods as an historical survey, no matter how condensed or popu
lar. Besides, in the opening section of his essay, Peirce gave a quite different,
genuinely historical though very sketchy, survey of methods, from the Romans
to Darwin; so why do it again, differendy and badly? It might almost seem that
that opening survey was for the purpose of distinguishing his later account as
ahistorical. In that account, Peirce isolated, and then hypostatized and idealized,
an aspect of the evolution of methods which would show why the desire to fix
belief inevitably becomes the pursuit of impersonal truth; or, in other words,
why arbitrary methods give way to methods that base conclusions on something
independent of believers. That process is as much personal as historical: in rough
analogy to the principle that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, a child has to
learn for himself that which his ancestors have embodied in religion, story, and
moral precept, viz., that willfulness is in the long run not as satisfying as are the
fruits of a discipline that subordinates self to something greater than self.

Of those with which I am familiar, the past interpretation of Peirce's
"Fixation" that is closest to the one given here is Richard Smyth's, in the long
Chapter 5 of his recent, fascinating volume, Reading Peirce Reading.13 As do I,
Smyth seeks to rebut claims that Peirce argued badly, and to do so by suggesting
that his inquiry was so fundamental that he could not have argued in standard

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
12 T.L. Short

ways at all. But, while Smyth's discussion is erudite and ingenious and contains a
great deal of valuable insight, I am unpersuaded by his major thesis, that Peirce
provided a "rhetorical" justification of the method of science, on the model of
Kant's critique of practical reason (pp. 183-4).
Of "Fixation," Smyth says, " ... the article is neither artless nor naive. It
contains a sophisticated and interesting answer to the question: 'Why should you
or I be logical?'" (p. 183). Smyth evidendy does not intend 'logical' in the sense
of deductive logic alone. Yet there is a misleading suggestion in his language
that we already know what it is to be logical, even in that broader sense which
encompasses all the methods of inquiry. All that remains, it seems, is to justif
being logical. Thus, he later speaks of "providing some justification of the valid
ity of the rules of inference" (p.190, my emphasis). But whether we can even
speak of rules for induction and abduction is doubtful, much less that the finally
correct and complete rules are already known, much less, as all of the present
essay is meant to show, that Peirce thought so.
It is not until the penultimate paragraph of this chapter that Smyth admits
that "There is another theme in 'Fixation' ... The essay opens with an extensive
discussion of the history of methods of reasoning in science" (p.236). And then
he has to argue, in very few sentences, that, while this historical theme "... at
first glance is inconsistent with the idea that there is a strand of Kantian moral
ism [in 'Fixation']," "... a Kantian moralism can easily be reconciled with an his
torical consciousness" (p.236). That reconciliation, following Kant and Schiller,
makes historical conditions no more than obstacles to be overcome on the way
to fulfilling an a priori law. Thus Smyth's reading omits or rejects that appeal to
experience which seems to me central to Peirce's entire discussion. In effect if
not in intention, he makes Peirce's logic to be Kantian in the wrong sense,
namely, as purporting to be a body of apriori laws.
Not that I would deny Smyth's claim that "...Peirce's logic should be placed
within the tradition of the ethicists of freedom ..." (p.235). The parallels Smyth
points out (throughout his chapter; I lack room here to repeat them), together
with the fact that Peirce's philosophical reading began with Schiller and Kant,
are too strong; we have to admit that Smyth's intriguing thesis embodies a pene
trating historical insight. But we do not have to agree that Peirce turned Kant's
second Critique strategies to his own purposes ? in Smyth's words, that
Peirce's answer to the question why one should be logical, "... is rhetorical,
rather than scientific; that is, he aims to persuade his reader to adopt a certain set
of sentiments that setde the unresolved questions in a manner that is practically
(rather than theoretically) reasonable" (pp.183-4). I suggest, alternatively, that
the moral overtones of Peirce's writings on scientific method are selfconsciously
patterned on Kant's philosophy but do not derive their force therefrom; rather,
they are intended as a way of establishing Kantian moralism on a new basis, by
showing that even in the seemingly amoral realm of pure inquiry, moral laws are
manifest, indeed, that the scientific life is an eminentiy moral life. And similar

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry: Another Reading of "Fixation" 13

remarks apply to Peirce's persistently Christian rhetoric. But I do not have room
here to develop this alternative; I mention it only to show that we can disagree
with Smyth's major thesis while retaining much that is most interesting in his
Smyth's focus (see his p.190) is on a part of Peirce's "Fixation" we have yet
to consider, viz., the claim, quoted above, that the method of science rests on a
"fundamental hypothesis," that "there are real things" that are independent of
what is thought about them but which nevertheless affect our senses in some
regular, lawful fashion. Smyth's interpretation, if I understand it, is that Peirce
defended this hypothesis in a manner like that in which Kant defended the moral
law's three presuppositions, of God, freedom, and immortality. That is, while (a)
these presuppositions cannot be proven true, (b) they can be shown not to be
disprovable, and (c) they must be accepted if we are to obey a law whose author
ity we cannot help but acknowledge. In Smyth's Kantian language already
quoted, the hypothesis of reality is "practically reasonable," given that we are to
inquire at all. This, as Smyth says, is a second critique way of securing first Cri
tique "foundations" (p.184).14
I suggest, to the contrary, that Peirce was not interested in securing founda
tions; rather, his view was that the assumptions made in a method of inquiry can,
and can only, be tested by employing that method, and that those tests will
never be exhausted. Foundations are never to be laid. Chief steps in inquiry will
continue to be lessons in logic. As well as being antifoundationalist, this is prag
matic. Peirce was fond of expressing his pragmatism in the words attributed to
Jesus: "By their fruits ye shall know them." That applies to methods at least as
much as to theories; nor can theory and method be so rigorously distinguished
as our use of those terms implies. Pragmatism, righdy understood, is antifounda
tionalist. It remains, however, to show how the fundamental hypothesis of sci
ence is tested in being employed.
After stating the fundamental hypothesis, Peirce remarked,

... scientific investigation has led to the most wonderful

triumphs in the way of setding opinion. These afford the
explanation of my not doubting the method or the hy
pothesis which it supposes ... (3:254)

Unfortunately, Peirce did not elaborate; he did not spell out the logic of being
assured by triumphs. But perhaps we may venture to fill in the gap. In the first
place, the logic is evidendy that by which any hypothesis gains credibility. If the
description of a phenomenon is deducible from an hypothesis and is not deduci
ble from known truths (or already well-confirmed hypotheses), then that is some
reason to believe the hypothesis in question. The hypothesis will be defeated if a
falsehood is shown to be deducible from it; it will be rendered doubtful if we
can think of a more satisfactory way of explaining the phenomena it explains.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
14 T.L. Short

From this point of view, however, the fundamental hypothesis has some pe
culiar features. It entails no specific phenomenon by the nonoccurrence of which
it could be refuted. Furthermore, unless some better method of inquiry be
found, we are not free not to assume it. As Peirce indicated (vide supra), despite
the sometime prevalence of tenacity, authority, or taste, the scientific metho
has always been implicit in the way people ordinarily pursue practical investig
tions; its hypothesis, we might conjecture, is instinctive.
Nevertheless, as that hypothesis does entail that we can achieve an agree
ment among our observations, our faith in it can be shaken when such agree
ment seems to elude us, and it is made strong by the fact that we do achieve
large measure of agreement. The truth of the hypothesis is evident in the fac
that we succeed in communicating, that we live together in a social world. Bu
the fundamental hypothesis further entails that a more exact understanding o
phenomena is possible than that contained in our ordinary observations. Henc
the pursuit of theory, an attempt to say what, exactiy, it is that we observe. And
a theory, since it connects observations of diverse types of phenomena, effects a
deeper agreement among the observations which support it; by the same token,
it is open in principle to more numerous and more decisive refutations than are
ordinary observations or the commonsense beliefs that they presuppose. A su
cessful theory, therefore, is a still more impressive confirmation of the fund
mental hypothesis. Hence Peirce's remark about the triumphs of science.
The reasoning of the preceding paragraph remains murky; much that is con
troversial has been written in the same vein, without reference to Peirce; but tha
is no reason to suppose that good sense cannot be made of an idea that so man
have found so plausible. There is no room here to do justice to the topic, but
two observations may help to put Peirce's apparent thought into contemporar
First, this type of reasoning has sometimes been formalized using the fa
mous theorem of Thomas Bayes. It is not, however, the exclusive property of so
called Bayesians: it can be interpreted objectively, in conformity to Peirce's view
of probability.15 A corollary of Bayes' theorem is this: the probability of an hy
pothesis, H, given some fact, E, that it correctiy predicted and (if true) explains,
is great in proportion to the improbability E had before it had been observed
and without assuming H. As E can be a conjunction of facts, and since the prob
ability of such a conjunction is the product of the probabilities of the conjuncts
(hence, less than the probability of any one conjunct), it follows, further, that
the more things an hypothesis predicts and the more improbable they are, the
more highly confirmed it will be, if those predictions come true. Now, the suc
cess of science is the evidence, E, that would be extremely improbable if the fun
damental hypothesis of science, H, were not true; as E is the case, H is therefore
highly probable. Those probabilities cannot be given an exact numerical value,
but reasons can be given why they tend toward extremes ? very improbable,
very probable. And that is all that we need to know.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry: Another Reading of "Fixation33 15

Second, arguments of this type ? for physical realism as the best explana
tion of science's success ? are now well-known, though controversial. Hilary
Putnam, for example, has reduced it to a memorable slogan, "The positive argu
ment for realism is that it is the only philosophy that doesn't make the success of
science a miracle."16 However, there is an important difference between the form
of the argument due to Putnam, Richard Boyd, et al.17 and that which I am at
tributing to Peirce. These others are arguing for a realistic interpretation of the
theories of "mature science," the theories that, if not final, have been developed
in great detail and have been borne out in many and diverse applications. Their
success, it is argued, would be inexplicable if their theoretical terms did not refer
to real things and if their characterizations of those theoretical entities were not
somewhere near the truth about them. As against such arguments, it has been
objected that ideas of approximate truth or verisimilitude have not yet received a
generally accepted explication that would bear the weight of the argument
placed on them, and that, perhaps for other reasons as well, there has been no
convincing attempt to correlate the relative empirical success of two theories and
the relative closeness of their theoretical ideas to physical reality. In addition,
Larry Laudan has pointed out that many theories have enjoyed a long run of
success despite containing key theoretical terms that refer, we now think, to
nothing or that get what they do refer to entirely wrong.18
Peirce's variant of the argument escapes these objections since it is not an
argument for a realist interpretation of successful theories but, rather, for there
being a physical reality of some sort ('physical' being vaguely but not vacuously
defined). Once granted that there is such a world, then we can conclude that a
successful theory must bear some relation to it that accounts for its success; but
what that relation is, is another question. Ideally, the theory is a true description
of the real world. But a theory whose success is limited cannot be entirely true,
and whether it is approximately true or is "like" the truth or models phenomenal
laws but misrepresents reality if taken literally, can only be judged, and then not
with finality, in light of a better theory, if we have one. Given the current state
of our knowledge of physical reality, it would seem to me to be premature to
essay a general account of the relation of successful theories to reality. The pre
vailing interpretation of quantum phenomena alone should give us pause. Cer
tainly it suggests that the closeness of an idea to reality cannot be construed as
pictorial accuracy; but then accuracy of what kind? This caution is consistent
with Peirce's antifoundationalism: on some matters, we must wait upon the fur
ther lessons in logic that future steps in science may provide.
One word more on the fundamental hypothesis. Advances in theoretical un
derstanding not only reassure us of its truth but also make that hypothesis more
precise. What is reality? How does it affect our senses? In what manner (think of
the questions quantum physics has raised) is it independent of observer? Every
advance in physics, chemistry, biology makes the hypothesis more specific, some
times more specific in a way later turns out to be mistaken. Scientific method,

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
16 TX. Short

truth, reality ? all of these are vaguely limned in Peirce's essay. For according to
the clear implication of that essay, none of them will be defined precisely a
finally until inquiry itself is finished. The very roughness of "Fixation" is part o
its significant form.

Perhaps the most serious criticism of "Fixation," best stated by Christopher
Hookway, is that, in it, Peirce violated his own strictures, expressed both earlier
and later, against psychologism in logic.19 This is on the assumption that Peirce
was arguing from the premiss that we seek in inquiry to fix belief and on the fur
ther assumption that that premiss is psychological. It is tempting to dismiss the
objection on the ground that, as Peirce was not making any argument at all, at
least not one in a sense that involves an inference from premisses, he could not
have been arguing from a psychological premiss nor, hence, psychologistically.
But that would be too easy, since psychologism might nevertheless have infected
Peirce's discussion, couched in psychological terms from beginning to end, in
some other way. Furthermore, Hookway bolsters his critique by associating the
later Peirce with it: he claims that Peirce's later theory of normative science, in
which logic is based on ethics, not on psychology, was intended to overcome the
psychologism of his 1877-8 doctrines. And Peirce himself would seem to have
said so: in 1902 he wrote to William James,

My own view in 1877 was crude. Even when I gave my

Cambridge lectures [1898] 1 had not really got to the
bottom of it or seen the unity of the whole thing. It was
not until after that that I obtained the proof that logic
must be founded on ethics, of which it is a higher devel
opment. Even then, I was for some time so stupid as not
to see that ethics rests in the same manner on a founda
tion of esthetics ... (8.255)

And again, in 1903 and 1908, Peirce disparaged his 1877-8 doctrine as psy
chologist^ and poorly argued (5.28, 6.485). That seems definitive. A.J. Ayer
was not the first, or even the second, to complain of Peirce's arguments.
However, the last two passages cited refer rather to the argument in "How
to Make Our Ideas Clear," and to its use of the conclusions of "Fixation," than
to "Fixation" itself. They reflect Peirce's late-blooming interest in finding a
"proof of pragmatism, whereas the doctrine of pragmatism is not stated in
"Fixation" but only in its sequel. And the longer passage quoted above, in which
the 1877 paper ? i.e., "Fixation" ? is alone cited, does not charge that essay
with psychologism but only with crudity. The very word 'crude' and especially
the subsequent talk of getting "to the bottom of it" and finding "the unity of
the whole thing" imply the precise opposite of a rejection of what was said in

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry: Another Reading of "Fixation" 17

"Fixation." They imply, rather, that the views presented there are to be retained.
For views cannot be refined and deepened unless they are retained. To refine a
doctrine is to retain it, in refined form.20
We may be permitted, then, to read "Fixation" in light of Peirce's later doc
trine of the normative sciences. That doctrine is a part of Peirce's architectonic,
developed in writings of 1902-6 (1.180-283,573-615 and 5.34-40,120-150),
according to which the sciences, including those denominated 'philosophy', can
be arranged, to their advantage, in a hierarchy, wherein the one below provides
principles to be used by the one next above (1.180). Mathematics is first, then
philosophy, then the special, or idioscopic, sciences, which include all of the
natural and social sciences (Peirce divided the idioscopic sciences a litde differ
entiy, into "the physical" and "the psychical"). The philosophical sciences begin
with phenomenology, then the normative sciences, then metaphysics. The nor
mative sciences are, in order, aesthetics, ethics, and logic. But, so far, we have
mentioned only the sciences of discovery. The sciences of discovery are followed
by sciences of review, the two together constituting the theoretical sciences,
which are followed by the practical sciences. (Notice that ethics is a theoretical
science of discovery, not a practical science; this undercuts Smyth's attempt to
construe Peirce's defense of logic as practical (in Kant's sense) rather than as
theoretical.) Each science is distinguished by the type of observations it makes;
this applies even to mathematics, which rests on observations of the results of
experiments upon diagrams.
Peirce's architectonic might seem to indicate that in his later years he re
verted to foundationalism. To see that he did not, it is sufficient to notice that
architectonic itself belongs to the sciences of review, which are occupied "with
arranging the results of discovery" (1.182). Those results must therefore have
been obtained first, without the benefit of an architectonic ordering. Architec
tonic aims, Peirce said, "to base itself on the principle affinities of the objects [i.
e., the sciences] classified" and "is concerned not with all possible sciences...but
with sciences in their present condition" (1.180). The architectonic is a post hoc
ordering of inquiry, based on the results of inquiry so far, and is intended to fa
cilitate its further progress; but, being post hoc, that ordering is provisional. Fur
ther progress in the sciences might yield new sciences and reveal different affini
ties, requiring a revised classification. Therefore, the architectonic itself is subject
to correction. And if it is, then so is the r?le it ascribes to one science as (in any
sense) basic to another. By the same token, no science can be foundational to
another; for if it were, that is something that would have to be known, i.e., in an
architectonic that is not subject to correction.
Now let us compare the method described in Peirce's account of the norma
tive sciences to that employed in "Fixation." The leading idea of the normative
sciences is that the rules of logic must be justified as means to an end, which is a
matter of ethics (1.573, 575-6, 606-610 5.130), and that ultimate ends can be
established only by the aesthetic exercise of discovering what is admirable with

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
18 T.L. Short

out qualification (5.130, 1.577-592, 611-615). The method of determinin

what is admirable requires us to consult our feelings, in response to carefully ar
ticulated alternatives: it is "to inquire what it is that we can be content to wish fo
independendy of any ulterior result" (1.579, my emphases). Again,

What I propose now to do is to pass in review every one

of the general classes of objects which anybody could
suppose to be an ultimate good, and to question con
sciousness, first, as to whether or not each of these in
turn could content us as the sole ultimate good inde
pendendy of any ulterior result... (1.581, my emphases)

But that is exacdy the method of "Fixation." The topic, by 1902, is broader: it is
not what would content us in inquiry alone; it is what would content us alto
gether. But the method is the same, with this addition: in 1902 and later, Peirce
can rely on his phenomenological categories to articulate the broadest classes o
alternatives. Peirce's discussions c.1903 are in fact not less crude than that of
"Fixation," but there is a promise of greater refinement as well as of greater gen
erality, both contributing to improved conclusiveness.
Improved conclusiveness is not yet final, unassailable proof. The late theory
of normative science is no more foundationalist than was Peirce's view of 1877
8. In these same pages of 1903, Peirce noted that reviewing ideals "is not a job
that a man sits down to and has done with. The experience of life is continually
contributing instances more or less illuminative" (1.599). There is no hint here
that aims, much less methods for attaining them, can be established a priori.
Either Peirce's 1877 references to psychological facts (which manner of fix
ing belief actually succeeds, the social impulse, our dissatisfaction at two repug
nant propositions) do not make his 1877 logic psychologistic, or his later refer
ences to psychological facts (what we shall find admirable without qualification,
what would content us), do make his 1902-6 normative science psychologistic.
Which is it? Well psychologism, let us agree, is some sort of a fallacy. If wha
Peirce was doing involved no fallacy, then it cannot have been guilty of psy
chologism. Psychologism, I suggest, is a particular form of the fallacy of attempt
ing to deduce a value from a fact. A psychologistic theory of ethics or of logi
would seek to deduce the rules we ought to obey from facts about human psy
chology. But what Peirce was doing was quite different. That we are content
with X and discontent with not-X are not facts from which he deduced that X is
our aim or should be our aim; instead, his claim was that they are facts that lead
us to make X our aim. We can refuse to adopt that purpose, and there is no ar
gument by which the person who does so refuse can be shown that he should
not; but we suspect that he will not be able to hold out in practice. And as w
come to see this more clearly, we ourselves are less inclined to hold out. As thi
line of thought commits no fallacy, it cannot be guilty of psychologism.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry: Another Reading of "Fixation" 19

The idea that we are of such a nature as to be susceptible to forming certain

purposes rather than certain others, and that this is presupposed in any theory of
logic or ethics, is no more psychologistic than is Kant's talk of respect for the
moral law. The only difference, in this regard, between Peirce's view and Kant's
is that the latter thought that moral respect is engendered by the idea of the law
alone, and that this distinguishes moral respect from inclination or self-interest,
whereas Peirce never said anything of the sort. But, whereas Peirce held that ex
perience plays a crucial role in purpose-formation, he nevertheless achieved, in
another way, a like distinction between commitment to truth and self-interest.
For he repeatedly emphasized his conviction, noted above, that scientific inquiry
cannot result in a final fixation of belief within one's own lifetime and, hence,
that so far as one inquires scientifically, that is, desires the truth, he is freed from

Still, one might object that Peirce has made our ultimate aims, and hence
the rules of life and thought that subserve them, to depend on mere facts of hu
man psychology and, thus, on what is variable from one individual or one cul
ture to another. Perhaps it was to evade such an objection that Peirce tried to
argue that nothing can be admirable without qualification but the unending de
velopment of concrete reasonableness (1.615, cf. 5.433). However, that very
Hegelian sentiment sounds like the conclusion of an argument a priori, and not
a very persuasive one at that. Fortunately, Peirce elsewhere, but in the same pe
riod, said something quite different to the same effect ? something perhaps
even less to contemporary philosophical taste, but not for that reason mistaken.
What he said invoked the teleology that surfaced occasionally in his writings,
and especially c. 1902-3. It was, namely, that " is the idea which will create its
defenders, and render them powerful" (1.217). The clear implication of this
statement is that, in the long run, it is not human psychology that determines
human ideals but, rather, it is the ideal that shapes human psychology (cf.
1.216). The ideal is such because of its own intrinsic nature: "... every general
idea has more or less power of working itself out into fact; some more so, some
less so" (2.149). On that assumption, Peirce's method in "Fixation" ? his re
course to experiences of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in order to establish the
purpose of inquiry ? reveals an objective purpose, one that over time we will
find ourselves adopting, willy-nilly.
I do not have room here to explicate and defend Peirce's teleology.21 How
ever, it should be noted that it is not intended to be an a priori doctrine. It is an
empirical hypothesis. Like physical realism, it can never be more than an hy
pothesis, though continued experience may render it increasingly plausible.
Unlike physical realism, it is not presupposed by the method of science. It is,
however, presupposed by the idea that the methods of science, and the aims that
correspond to them, are progressively discovered, rather than being merely in

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
20 T.L. Short

vented or subjectively elected, as inquiry continues.22

That inquiry is objective is itself an hypothesis, one that embraces the hy
potheses both of physical realism and of teleology. It could not be otherwise for
a thoroughgoing antifoundationalist.23


1. It was in "Epistemology Naturalized" that Quine proposed to make

epistemologa "a chapter of psychology" (W.V.Quine, Ontological Relativity and Oth
Essays, Columbia University Press, 1969, p.83). Some years later, and not as a change
mind, he asserted that there is still a place for "normative epistemology," namely, as
chapter of engineering: the technology of anticipating sensory stimulation" (W.V. Quine
Pursuit of Truth, Harvard University Press, 1990, p. 19.) The idea is that we can establish
on the basis of past experience, various norms about how best to go about developing suc
cessfully predictive theories. Those norms are important. But they presuppose a deep
norm or fundamental aim, which cannot be established but can only be taken for grante
by epistemological engineers. Quine admits as much: "But when I cite predictions as t
checkpoints of science, I do not see that as normative. I see it as defining a particular lan
guage game, ...: the game of science, in contrast to other good language games such a
fiction and poetry" (Ibid., p.20). The trouble with this is that predictivity, as an ideal
science, really is a norm and cannot be swept under a rug of definition. Quine must kno
that predictivity played very litde part in Aristotelian science, which was essentially a qua
tative taxonomy of things and did not seek quantitative laws of change. And he mus
know that the scientific revolution that began in the 17th Century, by which Aristoteli
science was supplanted by a Galilean, predictivist inquiry, was a hard-fought batde ov
real issues and not a mere choice on the part of some to do science rather than to wri
poetry. The proof of this is that we see no problem with there being both poets and scie
tists, but we do see that the Aristotelians and the Galileans cannot both have been right.
2. References of the form, n.m, are to paragraph m of volume of The
Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vols. I-VI, Hartshorne and Weiss, eds., and
Vols. VII-VIII, Burks, ed., Harvard University Press, 1931-58. Those of the form, n:m
are to page m of volume of The Writings of Charles S. Peirce: Chronological Edition,
Vols. 1-6, various editors, Indiana University Press, 1982-99.
3. It follows that science cannot be defined by its method (contrary to
what many people think and even to what some people think Peirce thought; a superficia
reading of "Fixation" makes that essay seem to support the view of the latter). Thus
Peirce elsewhere identified science with an historical and ongoing community of inquirer
and, still more fundamentally, in this same passage of 1893 (6.428), with the spirit which
animates their inquiry. This spirit seeks the method appropriate to its quest, and that spir
is presupposed and appealed to in "Fixation," though not by name.
4. Harvard University Press, 1962, pp. 164-5.
5. A.J. Ayer, The Origins of Pragmatism, Macmillan, 1968, pp.32-33.
6. Israel Scheffler, Pour Pragmatists: A Critical Introduction to Peirce,
James, Mead, and Dewey, Humanities Press, 1974, pp.70- 71; Peter Skagestad, The Roa

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry: Another Reading of "Fixation" 21

of Inquiry: Charles Peirce's Pragmatic Realism, Columbia University Press, 1981, pp. 35
41; Christopher Hookway, "Belief, Confidence and the Method of Science," these Trans
actions, Winter 1993, pp. 1-32. Douglas Anderson covers much the same ground in an
extensive commentary on "Fixation," in his Strands of System: The Philosophy of Charles
Peirce, Purdue University Press, 1995, pp. 82-117.
7. When others questioned his philosophy, Descartes appears to have had
no second thoughts; nor is he the only self-confident reasoner we know of. Thus someone
might object that the social impulse not only can be resisted but has been resisted by some
of the greatest thinkers. But those are not counter-examples to Peirce's claim that a social
impulse is cognitively basic. Surely the genius has confidence in his own, unaided reason
only because his powers had been verified by others, by his success is getting the answers
his teachers deemed right and by getting them more quickly and surely than others did.
That is one point, that an individual's rationality is partly a social product. Another point
is that the social impulse is also manifest in a second way, closely related to changing one's
mind when confronted by doubters: namely, eagerness to change the doubters' minds.
Descartes et al. exhibit the social impulse in this second form. One way or the other, we
are not content while disagreement remains.
8. Though variously named, prejudice, as philosophers from Burke to
Peirce to Gadamer have noted, is, in some of its varieties, something we cannot get along
without. In the case of natural science, Peirce sometimes argued that our statistically
unlikely success in guessing, that is, in hypothesis formation, must be due to an instinct for
the truth, hence, to a biologically-based prejudice, something that the theory of evolution
can explain and also show the limitations of. But prejudice of any sort remains highly falli
ble and subject to correction by experience. It is no foundation for knowledge.
9. See 5.384 and note. The change was made in annotations on a copy of
the article (MS334, as numbered in Richard S. Robin, Annotated Catalogue of the Papers
of Charles S. Peirce, University of Massachusetts Press, 1967): Houser and Kloesel, eds.,
The Essential Peirce, Vol. 1, Indiana University Press, 1992, p.377, n.24.
10. I think, then, that Skagestad (op. cit., note 6) is right that Peirce's ac
count does combine the evolutionary and the normative but that he is wrong to suppose
that Peirce switched from one to the other (the implication is that he did so illegitimately:
"... Peirce is less than clear as to what sort of argument he wishes to propose"), leaving the
former account incomplete (p.39). But the issue goes beyond a reading of "Fixation." If
one finds absurd the idea that the Darwinian theory of evolution makes it possible once
again to understand features of an organism functionally, and has thus reintroduced teleol
ogy into modern science, so that there is no discontinuity between the naturalistic and the
normative, then of course one will not find my reading of "Fixation" intelligible. But
Peirce was, at least by 1902, quite clearly of the opinion that teleology has had a rebirth in
modern science (for details, see my "Peirce's Concept of Final Causation," these Transac
tions, Fall 1981). And I have tried to defend that view in "Teleology in Nature," Ameri
can Philosophical Quarterly, October 1983, and, more recently, in the first six sections of
"Teleology and Linguistic Change," in Shapiro and Haley, eds., The Peirce Seminar Pa
pers, Vol. IV, Berghan Books, 1999.
11. Skagestad asserts that Peirce did not solve the "problem of 'how to get
there from here,' of how adaptations which have only long-term benefits can arise from an
evolutionary mechanism which selects adaptations only for their short-term bene
fits..." (op.cit., p.41). But this assumes that natural selection must prevail throughout a
process that is initiated by faculties which themselves are products of natural selection; and

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
22 T.L. Short

that is clearly wrong. The existence of eyes, we suppose, resulted from a long series
natural selections, but they do not operate by natural selection, and therefore the conse
quences of their operation cannot be explained by natural selection. Peirce's point appear
to be that the disposition to inquire, though it evolved because of its short-term benefit
initiates a new process governed by other principles. This should not be hard to und
stand. Think for example of sex. The act is pleasurable; for, if it were not, the speci
would long ago have died out. But coitus is increasingly divorced from the reproduct
function. So also, we have learned to pursue truth for its own sake or for other reasons,
g., theological, not immediately related to survival. One would like to think that the pu
suit of truth is nobler than is recreational sex, and I believe it is; but it is not for that r
son less rooted in human nature.
12. In "How To Make Our Ideas Clear," Peirce wrote, " we have see
in the former paper [i.e., "Fixation"], the ideas of truth and falsehood, in their full dev
opment, appertain exclusively to the scientific method of settling opinion. A person wh
arbitrarily chooses the propositions which he will adopt can use the word truth only
emphasize the expression of his determination to hold on to his choice" (3:272, my e
13. Richard A. Smyth, Reading Peirce Reading, Rowman and Littlefield,
14. I would find this claim to be far more plausible were it made with re
spect to Peirce's thought of 1868-9 rather than to his papers of 1877-8. For example, in
the essay of 1869 from which we quoted earlier, Peirce wrote that the assumption that the
community of inquirers will continue to make progress "involves itself a transcendent and
supreme interest, and therefore from its very nature is unsusceptible of any support from
reasons. The infinite hope that we all have... is something so august and momentous, that
all reasoning in reference to it is a trifling impertinence." There's the Kantian thesis (a):
the proposition in question is not provable. Peirce next says that "... the question is single
and supreme, and ALL is at stake upon it ... So this sentiment is rigidly demanded by
logic." There's the Kantian thesis (c): by a law we already acknowledge, we are required to
believe the unprovable proposition. Last, the (b) thesis that this same proposition cannot
be disproven: "... it is always a hypothesis uncontradicted by facts" (2:271-2). Now, all
three of these theses still apply in "Fixation," but (a) and (b) only in a weakened form. For
there, as we shall see, Peirce admits that experience can either strengthen or weaken (and
has in fact strengthened) our conviction that the fundamental hypothesis is correct. He
does not dismiss such reasoning as a mere impertinence, even though there is still a recog
nition that we must assume the hypothesis regardless. But more importandy, in "Fixation"
Peirce adds the thought that the laws of logic reveal themselves gradually as we continue
to inquire. Experience thus plays two roles: one is to lend support, albeit never conclusive,
to belief that the hypothesis is true; the other is to show that we must assume that hy
pothesis anyway. In the 1868-9 papers, there is no similarly un-Kantian suggestion that
logic's requirements are established ? not as true but as what we must accept ? in the
course of our experience, that is, in the course of inquiry.
15. See some of Wesley Salmon's pellucid writings, e.g., the relatively re
cent and concise, "Rationality and Objectivity in Science, or Tom Kuhn Meets Tom
Bayes," in C. Wade Savage, ed., Scientific Theories, University of Minnesota Press, 1990,
pp.175- 204.
16. Hilary Putnam, Mathematics, Matter and Method, Cambridge Univer
sity Press, 1975, p.73. It does not matter to my argument that Putnam later abandoned so

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to
Peirce on the Aim of Inquiry: Another Rending of "Fixation" 23

unnuanced a realism.
17. See, e.g., Hilary Putnam, Meaning and the Moral Sciences, Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1978, pp. 19-22, Richard Boyd, "Realism, Underdetermination and a
Causal Theory of Evidence," Nous, 1973, pp. 1-12, and "Lex Orandi est Lex Credendi,"
in Churchland and Hooker, eds., Images of Science, University of Chicago Press, 1985,
18. Larry Laudan, "A Confutation of Convergent Realism," in Leplin, ed.,
Scientific Realism, University of California Press, 1984, pp.218-249.
19. Christopher Hookway, Peirce, Routledge, 1985, pp-48,52-8.
20. This supports Smyth's contention, which in this passage he presents as
a "suggestion": "Everyone who is familiar with Peirce's mature system is aware that he
came to regard logic as a branch of ethics. What some will find unacceptable is the sugges
tion that he took this line as early as 1877 in an essay that breathes the spirit of psycho
logical naturalism..." (p.192). If Peirce himself saw his later doctrine of normative science
as a refinement, not a rejection, of his 1877 essay, then in that essay the idea that logic is
based on ethics must have been at least implicit. At the same time, however, this shows
that Smyth's interpretation of "Fixation" is over-refined. His extensive account of Peirce's
sophisticated adoption of rhetorical and other strategies gleaned from divers earlier phi
losophers would make the 1877 paper far less crude, not more crude, than was his later
theory of normative science. Furthermore, Peirce's theory of normative science is thor
oughly empiricist, theoretical, and antifoundationalist, in stark contrast to the Kantian,
practical-reason gloss of "Fixation" that Smyth offers.
21. See however, the three articles cited in n.10, in which I explicate and
defend Peirce's teleology.
22. See also my "The Discovery of Scientific Aims and Methods," Ameri
can Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Spring 1998.
23. I should like to thank Robert Meyers and Richard Robin for their cri
tiques of an earlier stab at this theme.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 13 Jun 2018 23:11:37 UTC
All use subject to