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Doubting at Will? Peirce on the Aim of Belief

Many philosophers hold a double standard when it comes to the normative standing of doubt and belief. While they regard “believing at will” to be either impossible or irrational, they consider “doubting at will” to be not only possible but also, at times, highly rewarding for rational inquiry. In this paper I argue, by contrast, that doubting and believing at will are both deplorable because equally impracticable — and the belief in their practicality equally self-deceptive. This is an implication of Peirce’s mature conception of belief, according to which believing a proposition amounts to accepting it with the aim of thereby acknowledging a thoroughly stable habit of conduct — so that genuinely (however imaginatively) doubting it requires not only the disruption of such a habit, but also its disruption in function of a higher degree of intellectual stability.

Francesco Poggiani
Penn State University
United States

 

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