Peirce on Inquiry and Truth

Dissertation, The Claremont Graduate University (2001)

American pragmatism began with the work of Charles Sanders Peirce. A recurring theme of pragmatism is the view that truth is connected to experience and inquiry. The purpose of this dissertation is to both expose and defend some of the views of Charles Peirce on the subject of truth. Peirce does not define truth, but instead offers the view that true claims are those that would not meet contrary evidence at the end of an indefinitely prolonged, hypothetical inquiry. At this hypothetical end of inquiry, a community of inquirers would reach a consensus about the truth of the claim. I argue, however, that Peirce's end of inquiry scenario is not to be taken literally, but is meant to serve as a regulative assumption in science. What we are left with is the view that a true belief is a justified belief, but that all beliefs are subject to the possibility that they are false. As such, Peirce rejects absolutism, meaning that we can never know whether our beliefs are forever settled. At the same time, Peirce argues that the methods of science are better in the establishment of belief than any rival methods. This is due to the fact that scientific methods employ experience and reason in tandem as a way of subjecting hypotheses to the highest possible level of rigorous scrutiny. In this way, we have the ability to check our hypotheses against the available evidence so that we can make sense out of the notion of progress, without also committing to the view that we are destined to reach an absolute end of inquiry. I argue that Peirce's form of pragmatism avoids both transcendentalist versions of correspondence accounts and purely coherentist accounts of truth. In the end, Peirce carves out a niche in his views on truth that is unique and defensible
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