Charles S. Peirce
[Four Methods of Settling Opinion; Chapters Overview]
MS 181 (Robin 360): Writings 3, 18-20
Living doubt is the life of investigation. When doubt is set at rest inquiry must stop.
Four methods of effecting a settlement of opinion. 1st and simplest, obstinate adhering to whatever happens to be one's existing opinions. Doubtless this is as a matter of fact done with a vague dislike of unsettling opinions. Sometimes perhaps consciously adopted. [Reading Advertizer. ] What can be said to a man who adopts this method of settling questions? [Ostrich.] He will not avoid pain and obtain pleasure as a rational person will. However, the person who pursues this method need not admit this. Or admitting it he need not behave or believe consistently. This method does not work in practice long (though it may for the term of a man's life) because men are influenced by one another, even if not by reason.
This suggests second method of settling opinion. By persecution. Method of the church. How it has arisen. How it has succeeded in history. When it has failed it seems to have failed on account of natural influences at work causing men to believe something else. Artificial influences will generally prove less strong than nature. It may be remarked that this same reason helps to make the method of obstinacy fail.
The cause of the failure of persecution suggests a third means of settling opinions. This is by the natural development of opinion. In other words not to try to cure the disease of error, but pursue an expectant treatment. There is a natural course in the growth of opinions. The history of philosophy the great example. Bring morality into question & you will see a determination not to question or discuss it which shows the force of this method. Traditional belief remains undisturbed until one community comes in contact with another. Then it is seen that the result is quite accidental & dependent on surrounding circumstances and initial conditions and belief gets all unsettled.
In this way once more the conviction is forced on man that another's opinion if derived by the same process as his own is as good as his own, & that other's opinion is taken by him for his own. Then he says we in the sense of the learned world. Individuation, isolation, consists in individual imperfection.
From this conception springs the desire to get a settlement of opinion in some conclusion which shall be independent of all individual limitations, independent of caprice, of tyranny, of accidents of situation, of initial conditions, which does not confirm any belief but unsettles & then settlesa conclusion to which every man would come who should pursue the same method and push it far enough. The effort to produce such a settlement of opinion is called investigation. Logic is the science which teaches whether such efforts are rightly directed or not.
Investigation the natural procedure of the mind.
That mental action called investigation leads ultimately to a conclusion not dependent on the initial condition of belief. The process consists of two parts: the determination of judgments by previous judgments, & the origination of new judgments.
Conclusion therefore ultimately dependent on these fresh judgments. Yet these are entirely accidental & various. The fact is then they are destined to be such that a certain conclusion will ultimately result.
Two views of reality.
Nature of signs.
Nature of inference in general.