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Pragmatism - Charles Sanders Peirce

beliefs belief term doubt

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) was a logician, mathematician, philosopher, and semiotician. He never published any books, nor did he hold an academic position for any significant period of his life. Nevertheless, Peirce is often credited with being the father of pragmatism. For Peirce, pragmatism was primarily a theory of meaning. He intended it to stand in opposition to various strands of idealism—to force mere theorizing to test the effects of beliefs in the "real" world.

His famous formulation set forth pragmatism as a method for testing the meaning of any belief, idea, or term by means of analyzing the effects of its adoption on future conduct and belief. For Peirce, beliefs were guides for action. Beliefs typically endure until some reason for calling them into doubt arises. Once one is confronted by doubt, he or she needs to once again arrive at some belief or beliefs as guides to future actions. Peirce explicated four methods of "fixing" such beliefs: tenacity, authority, an a priori method, and science, or experimentation. Tenacity and authority refer to the clinging to old beliefs in the face of present doubt due to, respectively, personal or institutional commitments. An a priori belief is fixed solely by an appeal to some version of "reasonableness" or other already existing preferences. Experimentation, for Peirce, was the preferred method of fixing belief, entailing the testing of hypotheses against public and verifiable observations.

Although Peirce coined the term pragmatism in 1878, it was William James who later went on to popularize it. This led Peirce to introduce, in 1905, the term pragmaticism, thus distinguishing his theory from that of James. Peirce intended pragmatism to be a means to an objective and impersonal reality—William James's interests lay in a very different direction.

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