Further reverberations in the echo chamber

Tue 31 Jan 2006 11:27 AM

The mononymous Helmut blogs about my discussion of the wikipedia. He writes: "Ideally, other readers engage in a collective re-editing of each entry, and I like that ideal as a kind of Peircean community of inquirers." As he notes, the ideal, Peircean community doesn't include just anyone. It is open to anybody doing science, but they have to be doing science. People relying primarily on methods of tenacity or authority don't count.

There are serious criticisms of Peirce's claim that the scientific community will eventually come up with the truth. Browsing through recent issues of the Transactions, I can point to a solid paper by Ilya Farber [PDF] and another by Robert Meyers-- and that is only counting the papers authored by friends of mine. It is rarely noted, however, that his claim that the community' opinion will converge on the truth is only about the community for contingent reasons. Scientists need to work together because each human scientist is finite: not enough attention, not enough time. If there were a single inquirer with time and resources enough, then she could converge on the truth as well as an arbitrarily large community.

In this respect, Peirce thinks of scientific methods as definable in terms of a single individual. A scientific community is one in which each member considered individually employs those methods. Contrawise, real epistemic communities are as much defined by the structure of their social networks as by the individuals considered each in isolation.

The issue arises with respect to the wikipedia: Does the structure allow people who do know more to correct for people who know less, or does error swamp wisdom?

There is certainly something that touches on these issues in Peirce's corpus, but I'll leave the archival work as an exercise for the reader.


from: Helmut

Tue 31 Jan 2006 03:36 PM

Nice. Perhaps Dewey's idea of intelligence in the Logic too....

from: Cathy Legg

Tue 20 Mar 2007 06:57 PM

"Peirce thinks of scientific methods as definable in terms of a single individual"?? That is not right. He is very clear that science is an essentially public endeavour carried out by a community of inquiry who correct each other. This is the difference he draws between the method of science and his 'third' method of fixing belief - which is followable by a single individual - the so-called 'a priori' method. See "The Fixation of Belief" for more details on this.



from: P.D. Magnus

Tue 20 Mar 2007 09:11 PM

Cathy: Peirce's argument in "Fixation" is that the method of science is the only way of apportioning belief compatible with the social impulse. That does not mean that the method itself is essentially social. In "How to Make Our Ideas Clear"-- the follow up to "Fixation"-- Peirce argues that truth is just what would be judged by anyone who enquired into a matter long enough. Were it not for limited time, a single individual might discover the truth as well as a community.

from: Cathy Legg

Sat 24 Mar 2007 07:26 PM

It's not just a lack of time that prevents a single individual from following the method of science acc to Peirce. It is also the natural limit on how much a single individual, possessed of whatever idiosyncracies make them the individual they are, can correct themselves. Consider Peirce's definition of the truth: "the opinion which would be agreed to by all who investigate is what we mean by the truth". He doesn't say "the opinion which would be agreed to by ME is what we mean by the truth." Logically speaking, for a single individual, whatever seems right to them is going to seem right - this is a very tautology. It requires communication with other inquirers to open a gap between what I believe and the truth.

Another thing - there are TWO 'social' methods of fixing belief in 'The Fixation of Belief': the method of science and the method of authority. One can think of the 4, in order, as private tenacity, public tenacity, private inquiry, public inquiry.