Cognitio 9 (1):73-84 (2008)

Jaime Nubiola
Universidad de Navarra
George M. Searle (1839-1918) and Charles S. Peirce worked together in the Coast Survey and the Harvard Observatory during the decade of 1860: both scientists were assistants of Joseph Winlock, the director of the Observatory. When in 1868 George, a convert to Catholicism, left to enter the Paulist Fathers, he was replaced by his brother Arthur Searle. George was ordained as a priest in 1871, was a lecturer of Mathematics and Astronomy at the Catholic University of America, and became the fourth superior general of his congregation from 1904 to 1909. Among the books he wrote for non-Catholic audiences was Plain Facts for Fair Minds (1895). On the 8th of August of 1895, Peirce found that book in a bookstore and the following day wrote a letter to George Searle developing his strong reservations about the question of the infallibility of the Pope. This letter (L 397) is almost unknown amongst Peirce's scholars. After describing these historical circumstances as a framework, the aim of my paper is to describe Peirce's arguments against papal infallibility presented by George Searle in his book, and the contrast between the genuine scientific attitude and the putative metaphysical notion of absolute truth that is —according to Peirce— behind Searle's defense of infallibility. In this sense, Peirce's fallibilism will be explained with some detail, giving an account also of his practical infallibilism: "The assertion that every assertion but this is fallible, is the only one that is absolutely infallible. But though nothing else is absolutely infallible, many propositions are practically infallible; such as the dicta of conscience" (Minute Logic, CP 2.75, c. 1902). Finally, having in mind the present interest in Peirce's religious ideas it will be suggested that some of Peirce's ideas on infallibility are nearer to contemporary understanding of that issue than Searle's defense. "I would with all my heart join the ancient church of Rome if I could. But your book," —Peirce writes to Searle— "is an awful warning against doing so." .
Keywords Fallibilism  Infallibility  Peirce
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Translate to english
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Peirce and the Logic of Fallibilism.James O. Bennett - 1982 - Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 18 (4):353 - 366.
Peirce, Fallibilism, and the Science of Mathematics.Elizabeth F. Cooke - 2003 - Philosophia Mathematica 11 (2):158-175.
Rethinking Peirce's Fallibilism.Joseph Margolis - 2007 - Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 43 (2):229-249.
Peirce, Levi, and the Aims of Inquiry.Cheryl Misak - 1987 - Philosophy of Science 54 (2):256-265.
C. S. Peirce: Pragmatism and Logicism.Jaime Nubiola - 1996 - Philosophia Scientiae 1 (2):109-119.
Teaching Peirce in Spain.Jaime Nubiola - 2008 - Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 44 (2):219-222.
Peirce's Fallibilism.Joseph Margolis - 1998 - Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 34 (3):535 - 569.


Added to PP index

Total views
486 ( #14,385 of 2,427,832 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
41 ( #19,768 of 2,427,832 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes