The Solution to Poor Opinions is More Opinions: Peircean Pragmatist Tactics for the Epistemic Long Game

In Michael Peters, Sharon Rider, Tina Besley & Mats Hyvonen (eds.), Post-Truth, Fake News: Viral Modernity & Higher Education. Springer. pp. 43-58 (2018)
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Although certain recent developments in mendacious political manipulation of public discourse are horrifying to the academic mind, I argue that we should not panic. Charles Peirce’s pragmatist epistemology with its teleological arc, long horizon, and rare balance between robust realism and contrite fallibilism offers guidance to weather the storm, and perhaps even see it as inevitable in our intellectual development. This paper explores Peirce’s classic “four methods of fixing belief”, which takes us on an entertaining and still very pertinent tour through tenacity, authority and a priori speculation to the method of science – the only method which is both public and self-correcting. Although in the West we (mostly) proudly self-conceive as living in a ‘scientific age’, I argue that this is premature. Precisely insofar as we treat the misbehavior of governments as a harbinger of doom, we remain trapped in authoritarian modes of thinking which Peirce identified with medievalism, although modernity is increasingly quickening around us in worldwide information-sharing practices that are shaped entirely by mutual help. With this framework in mind, many tactics of recent media are most helpfully seen as belonging not to a post-truth, but a pre-truth stage of human intellectual development. Advice on this is sought from Plato, who of course also faced a world that was ‘pre-academic’.

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Cathy Legg
Deakin University


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