The Fixation of Belief

Charles S. Peirce


      Charles Sanders Peirce was a strikingly original American Philosopher. Peirce began his career as a physicist. His experiments with pendulums contributed to the determination of the density and shape of the earth. He also worked on the measurement of light waves. In his late twenties he undertook a study of formal logic (especially the new mathematical logic of George Boole.) For the next twenty years he lectured on philosophy and logic at Harvard and John's Hopkin's Universities.
It is...easy to be certain. One only has to be sufficiently vague - C.S. Peirce

    Peirce is best known for initiating an original philosophical system, which is now known as pragmatism. One of Peirce's earliest assertions of pragmatism is developed in his article,The Fixation of Belief, which was published in Popular Science Monthly 12 (November 1877), 1-15.
     Peirce's ideas had strong influence on William James and John Dewey, two of the most read American philosophers. As well as philosophy, Dewey was very influential in American Education. William James is a major figure in psychology and went on to fully develop the pragmatic system of philosophy. James characterized truth as the capacity of a belief to guide one to successful action and proposed that all beliefs be evaluated in terms of their usefulness in solving problems. Compare this to Pierce's statement; "The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate is what we mean by truth and the object represented by this opinion is the real."
     You may also use the printable copy provided on this site. This commentary is divided into nine sections. Some of the terms have been linked to a concordance to help you better understand Peirce's writing. To use the concordance links, position your cursor on the highlighted word (try it now with the word: concordance.) The concordance words may appear in a different font. When you move the cursor away from the word, the note window will close. Please note that you need a Javascript compatible browser for this concordance. If this does not work for you, please let me know.
     Within the some of the commentary pages you will also find feedback forms. Use these to express the degree of confidence you have in understanding the text. It is important to recognize that the ideas and issues being probed by the philosophers we will investigate are complex and problematic. The approach we are taking to philosophy in InterQuest is not a matter of learning a list of facts or proceedures. The prime objective is to learn something about ourselves: our beliefs, assumptions, perceptions, values, and defenses. We are using works like The Fixation of Belief because they have significant influence upon culture, but also because they can help open some insights into our own belief systems. Every belief system has automatic defense mechanisms. A fascinating aspect of such defense mechanisms is that they are so clever in hiding themselves from us. Consider your experiences in reading the following article as a counter-move in the project of uncovering some of your hidden beliefs and their defenses.

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