From tenacity to inquiry

The way of inquiry – which includes (but does not end with) revelation, as explained in Chapter 6 – is essentially the last and best of four methods outlined by Peirce in his 1877 essay on ‘The Fixation of Belief.’

In the light of current usage, and considering Peirce’s own commitment to fallibilism, this title is remarkably ironic: both ‘fixation’ and ‘belief’ seem best suited to describe the first and crudest of the four, which he calls the method of tenacity. It consists of simply clinging stubbornly to whatever belief you already have and refusing to change it. Peirce concedes that this method ‘yields great peace of mind’; but it is quite incompatible with Peirce’s view of thinking as ‘necessarily a sort of dialogue, an appeal from the momentary self to the better considered self of the immediate and of the general future’ (SS, 195). Why should the ‘better considered self’ insist on deferring to an earlier stage in its own development?

Next is the method of authority, about which enough has been said in this netbook; it amounts to a method of collective tenacity, and public character constitutes its advance over the private method of tenacity. The third method essentially involves dialogue among reasonable people, i.e. those who admit their own ‘natural preferences’ and those of others as both valuable and questionable, and use honest reasoning to work toward a more universal and consistent belief system. This is certainly more promising than the method of authority in which some people impose beliefs on others, and is the best method available on questions that can’t be settled on factual grounds alone. But where observable facts are crucially relevant, it is much inferior to the method of science. This, Peirce’s fourth and highest method, is the collective public form of the meaning cycle itself. This way of inquiry is the only one which incorporates the best features of insight, reason, critical thinking and learning from experience.

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