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The Pragmatists and the Human Logic of Truth

Claudine Tiercelin

Chapter 4

In defense of a human logic of truth: some pragmatist proposals

Entrées d'index

Keywords :

epistemology, ethics, truth

Texte intégral

  • 1 Simon Blackburn, 1998, “Wittgenstein, Wright and Minimalism”, p. 157.
  • 2 Putnam, POQ, p. xii.
  • 3 Putnam, POQ, p. 2.
  • 4 Putnam, TTC, p. 5.
  • 5 Putnam, DL, p. 447 & TTC, p. 5.

1As I said at the beginning of my talk, people have mixed feelings about pragmatism. Some, like Simon Blackburn, see in it “the denial of differences, the celebration of the seamless web of language, the soothing away of distinctions”.1 For others, like Putnam, it is precisely the “pluralism” and “thoroughgoing holism”, which are ubiquitous in pragmatist writing,2 which are able to continue to “value the tolerance and pluralism” promoted by the Enlightenment, and to avoid “the epistemological scepticism that came with that tolerance and pluralism”, in other words, to avoid “moral scepticism without tumbling back into moral authoritarianism”.3 Contrary to the “reactionary metaphysics”, directly generated, according to Putnam, from a certain tradition – mainly the empiricist (and analytical) tradition – and, at the same time, contrary to the “irresponsible relativism” it gave rise to,4 pragmatism seems to offer the right “middle way”, the best available answer to our fear of “the loss of the world”, the best way to “renew” (in the Deweyan sense of the term) philosophy.5 And Putnam emphasizes the four following theses as being the main contributions of the pragmatists: antiskepticism, fallibilism, the rejection of the fact/value dichotomy, and the thesis that, in a sense, “practice is primary in philosophy.”

  • 6 Putnam, WL, p. 152.

More precisely: (1) Antiskepticism: pragmatists hold that doubt requires justification just as much as belief (recall Peirce’s famous distinction between “real” and “philosophical” doubt); (2) fallibilism: pragmatists hold that there is never a metaphysical guarantee to be had that such-and-such a belief will never need revision (that one can be both fallibilistic and antiskeptical is perhaps the unique insight of American pragmatism); (3) the thesis that there is no fundamental dichotomy between “facts” and “values”; and (4) the thesis that, in a certain sense, “practice is primary in philosophy.”6

2Although I rather side with Putnam, I am not sure I side with him, in terms of all the ways he recommends to follow the footsteps of the pragmatists in order to resist scepticism and relativism. And I would like to say why.

3Let us start by taking for granted that: “Real pragmatic truth is truth as can and ought to be used as a guide for conduct.” If we are pragmatists, then we have obligations. The question is: what are they, and what is the best way to fulfil them? I would be tempted to say that we have the obligation to face the whole scope of the sceptical challenge. If, as pragmatists rightly insist on, we refuse all kinds of strict dualisms, between logic and epistemology on the one hand and ethics on the other, between fact and value, or again between reason and sentiment, then we should be ready to face it in all its facets; namely, in terms of the epistemological challenge: do we know anything? What are the conditions of possibility of knowledge, of justification? How do we justify our beliefs? How do we check they are true? How do we secure our inquiries? In terms of the ethical challenge: How should we deal with practical dilemmas? Is there any truth or falsehood in ethics? Can we know anything, if there are no moral realities, no a priori moral judgments? In terms of the metaphysical challenge or famous Sceptical Cartesian scenario: can we prove the reality of the external world?

1. The ethical challenge.

4Let us start with the ethical challenge. I think it is a good way to start, precisely because it is important to see where the point of departure between pragmatists should not be located. Indeed, it is often claimed that we have a different approach here, illustrated by James’s and Peirce’s respective positions on, for the former, the prevalence of ethics over epistemology, while Peirce would be a totally dumb, abstract, refrigerated logician, deaf to human and ethical issues. Just as much as James, Peirce considers that the philosopher must look to our practices and see what account of truth would be best suited for them:

  • 7 Peirce, CP, 8.112.

We must not begin by talking of pure ideas, vagabond thoughts that tramp the public roads without any human inhabitation, but must begin with men and their conversation.7

5This could even have been written by… Rorty.

  • 8 Putnam, in RP, p. 186.
  • 9 Putnam, in RP, p. 180.
  • 10 Putnam, in RP, p. 196-7.
  • 11 Putnam, WL, p. 174.
  • 12 Putnam, WL, p. 204-205.
  • 13 Putnam, POQ, p. 6.
  • 14 Putnam, MFR, p. 80ff. & WL, p. 160-161.
  • 15 Putnam, WL, p. 160.
  • 16 Peirce, W 3, p. 282.
  • 17 Putnam, WL, p. 161.
  • 18 Putnam, MFR, p. 83.
  • 19 Putnam, WL, p. 163.
  • 20 Putnam, WL, p. 164.
  • 21 Putnam, WL, p. 168.
  • 22 Putnam, WL, p. 167.

6((Hence Putnam’s change of mind in the way he analyses the famous passage in “The Doctrine of Chances” in which Peirce explains why altruism is called by our logic. Indeed, if Putnam credits Dewey of having applied Peirce’s original idea and, in particular, of having shown how “what applies to intelligently conducted inquiry in general applies to ethical inquiry in particular,”8 and of having given “the epistemological justification of democracy” – which meant showing that “democracy is not just one form of social life among other workable forms of social life; it is the precondition for the full application of intelligence to the solution of social problems” 9–, Putnam also considers that Dewey was at times indulging into a “metaphysics of value”,10 but, most importantly, too quick in concluding from the “overlap” between scientific values and ethical values to their complete identity;11 in that respect, Peirce was more lucid when he denounced the relativistic or sceptical risk there was in not maintaining a distinction between the two, and in completely giving up the idea of “pure knowledge”.12 This may explain why, although Putnam sees James as “the greatest exponent” of pragmatism,13 he also praises Peirce for his acute perception of the depth of the problem of objectivity in ethics: better than anyone, Peirce saw that ethical justifications cannot be understood in a purely instrumental way, precisely because they rest on certain norms of rationality. In at least two places,14 Putnam analyzes the arguments developed by Peirce to the effect that “instrumental rationality would be impossible if there were not topic-neutral norms whose claim to rational acceptability is not derived simply from the fact that they help us to achieve particular goals a certain percentage of the time.”15 Without pursuing the argument here, let us just say that the practical choice made by the person confronted to the dilemma of choosing, in a package, the card that would bring him eternal felicity, in one case, and everlasting woe, in the other case, cannot be performed on a mere utilitarian basis.16 Even if, in probabilistic (frequentist) terms, we have no reason to choose either solution, in a single case, we do reason in terms of what it would be more reasonable to believe in the long run, and in the interest of the community as a whole. What guides us in our choice then, is, to a certain extent, indeed, the utilitarian norm (also present in contemporary theories of decision or rational choice): always act so as to maximize the estimated utility,17 but no appeal to that rule could be understood in case one did not presuppose that what a rational person pursues in any action is not his own benefit, but what might benefit mankind (or the community of rational investigators) in the infinitely long run. To act otherwise would mean to be “illogical in all one’s inferences”. For Peirce, “one can only be rational if one identifies himself psychologically with a whole ongoing – in fact a potentially infinite – community of investigators.”18 Even if Putnam admits he is a bit puzzled by Peirce’s “metaphysically daring” solution (indeed, would such an attitude command all our actions, when facing torture, for example?),19 which is in keeping with Peirce’s not only “altruistic” but even “Buddhistic” virtues of self-abnegation, it remains the case that Peirce “was the philosopher who called our attention to the importance of the problem and to its depth.”20 Thus, “even when I seek to attain a goal (in a situation in which risk is involved either way), the rational decision as to what I must do to attain my practical goal depends upon my acknowledging the binding force of norms which do not possess a satisfactory instrumental justification in terms of my own goals.”21 Hence, “norms like the estimated utility rule were discovered not by mere trial and error, but by normative reflection on our practice.” This is the reason why “to say that something is rational is not merely to describe it as in accordance with some algorithm or quasi-algorithm or other. […] If I say that believing something or acting in a certain way is rational, then other things being equal, I am recommanding that belief or that course of action.”22))

7So for both Peirce and James, ethics is no doubt primary.

  • 23 Peirce, CP, 2.198).

It is impossible to be completely and rationally logical except on an ethical basis.23

  • 24 I have analyzed this in detail in chap. V of Tiercelin, 2005, Le Doute en question, p. 146ff.

What does it mean?24 First of all, that all pragmatists take the sceptical challenge ethics faces very seriously and as something which should be solved, but also, that there are many common elements in their answers to it.

1.1. The Rejection of moral rationalism and the dissociation between theorical and vital matters

8From the negative side, all pragmatists reject any form of moral rationalism and have basically an anti-theoretical reaction: Ethics has no essential state. Ethics is not Practics. They favor a form of Conservative Sentimentalism. Philosophical rationalism, Peirce claims, is a “farce”. This is why there is no possible confusion between Vital questions in which instinct, or the feeling of some “primitive obligation” should be followed, and Scientific questions, in which, in strict parlance, belief – as a disposition to act – has no place.

  • 25 Peirce, RLT, p. 115-116.
  • 26 Peirce, RLT, p. 111.
  • 27 Peirce, CP, 1.57.
  • 28 Peirce, CP, 1.56.
  • 29 Peirce, CP, 1.58.

9Indeed, if ethics as “the science of the end and aim of life” is excluded from philosophy, it is because it seems to be exclusively “psychical” and therefore confined to a special department of experience, while philosophy “studies experience in its universal characteristics.”25 It ranks “with the arts, or rather with the theories of the arts”, which “of all theoretical sciences”, Peirce regards as “the most concrete”, while philosophy is “the most abstract of all the real sciences”. Hence, if one should “not allow to sentiment or instinct any weight whatsoever in theoretical matters, not the slightest,”26 it is because to make knowledge an adjunction to ethics, or to allow the intrusion of moral or vital factors in science always makes one run the risk of judging the validity of reasonings according to the impressions they make on oneself: for example, “when men begin to rationalize about their conduct, the first effect is to deliver them over to their passions and produce the most frightful demoralization, especially in sexual matters.” Men “continue to tell themselves they regulate their conduct by reason; but they learn to look forward and see what conclusions a given method will lead to before they give their adhesion to it.” It is then the reign of “sham reasoning”, when “it is no longer the reasoning which determines what the conclusion shall be, but it is the conclusion which determines what the reasoning shall be.”27 “The effect of mixing speculative inquiry with questions of conduct results finally in a sort of make-believe reasoning which deceives itself in regard to its real character;”28; even worse: “men come to look upon reasoning as mainly decorative.”29


  • 30 Ramsey, 1931, The Foundations of Mathematics, p. 291-292.

Any attempt to treat such topics (of ‘popular philosophy’ such as ‘the relation of man to nature, and the meaning of morality’) seriously reduces them to questions either of science or of technical philosophy, or results more immediately in perceiving them to be nonsensical. […] Theology and Absolute Ethics are two famous subjects which we have realised to have no real objects.30

  • 31 Peirce, CP, 1.655.

If, walking in the garden on a dark night, you were suddenly to hear the voice of your sister crying to you to rescue her from a villain, would you stop to reason out the metaphysical question of whether it were possible for one mind to cause material waves of sound and for another mind to perceive them?”31

  • 32 Peirce, CP, 5.60.

If the captain of a vessel on a lee shore in a terrific storm finds himself in a critical position in which he must instantly either put his wheel to port acting on one hypothesis, or put his wheel to starboard acting on the contrary hypothesis, and his vessel will infallibly be dashed to pieces if he decides the question wrongly, Ockham’s razor is not worth the stout belief of any common seaman. For stout belief may happen to save the ship, while Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem would be only a stupid way of spelling Shipwreck.32

  • 33 Peirce, RLT, p. 111.

Men many times fancy that they act from reason when, in point of fact, the reasons they attribute to themselves are nothing but excuses which unconscious instinct invents to satisfy the teasing “whys” of the ego. The extent of this self-delusion is such as to render philosophical rationalism a farce.33

  • 34 Peirce, RLT, p. 110-112

It is the instincts, the sentiments, that make the substance of the soul. Cognition is only its surface, its locus of contact with what is external to it. […] Thus, pure theoretical knowledge, or science, has nothing directly to say concerning practical matters, and nothing even applicable at all to vital crises. Theory is applicable to minor practical affairs; but matters of vital importance must be left to sentiment, that is, to instinct.34

  • 35 Peirce, Ms 437, 14.

Sentimentalism implies Conservatism; and it is of the essence of conservatism to refuse to push any practical principle to its extreme limits – including the principle of conservatism itself. We do not say that sentiment is never to be influenced by reason, nor that under no circumstances would we advocate radical reforms. We only say that the man who would allow his religious life to be wounded by a sudden acceptance of a philosophy of religion or who would precipitately change his code of morals at the dictate of a philosophy of ethics […] is a man who we should consider unwise. 35

  • 36 James, “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life”, in WB, p. 141ff.

There is no such thing possible as an ethical philosophy dogmatically made up in advance. […] The presumption in cases of conflict must always be in favor of the conventionally recognized good; the philosopher must be a conservative, and, in the construction of his casuistic scale, must put the things most in accordance with the customs of the community on top. […] What closet-solutions can possibly anticipate the result of trials made on such a scale? Or what can any superficial theorist’s judgment be worth, in a world where every one of thousands of ideals has its special champion already provided in the shape of some genius expressly born to feel it, and to fight for it in its behalf? The pure philosopher can only follow the windings of the spectacle, confident that the line of resistance will always be towards the richer and the more inclusive arrangement, and that by one tack after another some approach to the kingdom of heaven is incessantly made. […] No philosophy of ethics is possible in the old-fashioned absolute sense of the word. Everywhere the ethical philosopher must wait on facts. […] The philosopher then, qua philosopher, is no better able to determine the best universe in the concrete emergency than other men.36

  • 37 Peirce, CP, 1.50.
  • 38 Peirce, CP, 1.50.

11Why it is so fundamental to dissociate theoretical from vital matters? To a certain extent also, because ethics requires beliefs, and mainly firm and fixed ones: moral conscience, as Robert Musil insisted on, demands a sort of “construction on piles”. Now, the unavoidable dogmatism, conservatism, – “morality is essentially conservative”37– urgency, required by this is incompatible with the disinterest, humility, sense of doubt and probability, uncertainty, refusal of Manichean distinctions, respect of fine nuances that are so characteristic of the theoretical (scientific) domain: experience, scientifically conducted, can never reach absolute certainty, exactitude, necessity or universality, whereas moral conscience requires uniformity, regularity, repeatability. This is why, as Peirce notes, “in more ways than one, an exaggerated regard for morality is unfavorable to scientific progress”, and “as a means to good life, it is not necessarily coextensive with good conduct.”38

  • 39 Peirce, CP, 2.82.
  • 40 Peirce, CP, 1.13.
  • 41 Peirce, CP, 1.635.
  • 42 Peirce, CP, 5.589.
  • 43 Peirce, CP, 5.582.
  • 44 Peirce, CP, 1.40.
  • 45 Peirce, CP, 1.236.
  • 46 Peirce, RLT, p. 107.

12Now, this is incompatible with the scientific attitude which Peirce defines less as a corpus of established truths and pieces of knowledge than as a mode of life, a pursuit of knowledge rather than knowledge. In order to be a real scientist, philosopher, or more generally, inquirer, it is necessary to have “such virtues as intellectual honesty and sincerity and a real love of truth”,39 the first step towards finding out being to acknowledge that you do not satisfactorily know already.40 In that respect, a real scientist is not, strictly speaking, a believer, since belief is something upon which a man is willing to act.41 He has only hypotheses, which are believed to the only extent that the economy of research prescribes, for the time being, that they should not be doubted, and that on them inquiry shall cease;42 but they are revisable, hence provisional. For one should be ready to overthrow one’s whole cartload of beliefs, as soon as experience requires it. Hence, there is nothing common between the man of science, moved by “a hearty and active desire to learn what is true” and “penetrated with a sense of the unsatisfactoriness of his present condition of knowledge”,43 and the theologian or professor who is only moved by the desire to stick to his previous beliefs. Such antithetical attitudes are illustrated by Peirce under the two anti-scientific attitudes of fixing belief embodied by the methods of tenacity and authority, and under the two figures of the theologian (or Hegelian seminarist) and the scientist.44 Dogmatism and conservatism, such are the main dangers science has to be protected from: unfortunately, the devotion required by knowledge (such as the years long cataloguing of Peirce’s manuscripts!) makes it hard to have a mundane life, and “the acquisition of books, instruments, laboratory, etc. depends upon qualifications in which the man of science is usually rather wanting — as wealth, diplomacy, popularity as a teacher — so that he is less likely to be provided with them than are men less qualified to use them for the advancement of science.”45 For Peirce, no compromise of principle is possible between science and society, morality or practice. Once for all, one should get rid of that “Hellenistic tendency” to “mingle Philosophy and Practice”.46

  • 47 Peirce, CP, 1.76.

True Science is distinctively the study of useless things. For the useful things will get studied without the aid of scientific men. To employ these rare minds on such work is like running a steam engine by burning diamonds.47

  • 48 Peirce, RLT, p. 107.

It does not mean that one should remain deaf to the practical effects of science: in some cases indeed, its results have immediate applications to human life48. But even then,

  • 49 Peirce, RLT, p. 107.

the true scientific investigator completely loses sight of the utility of what he is about. It never enters his mind. Do you think that the physiologist who cuts up a dog reflects while doing so, that he may be saving a human life? Nonsense. If he did, it would spoil him for a scientific man, and then the vivisection would become a crime.49

  • 50 Peirce, RLT, p. 117.

13If philosophy is, for Peirce, one of the domains in which the sense of utility is particularly harmful, it is because “touching as it does upon matters which are, and ought to be, sacred to us, the investigator who does not stand aloof from all intent to make practical applications, will not only obstruct the advance or pure science, but what is infinitely worse, he will endanger his own moral integrity and that of his readers.”50 Deploring “the present infantile condition of philosophy”, mainly due to the fact that “during this century it has chiefly been pursued by men who have not been nurtured in dissecting-rooms and other laboratories, and who consequently have not been animated by the true scientific Eros, but who have on the contrary come from theological seminaries, and have consequently been inflamed with a desire to amend the lives of themselves and others, a spirit no doubt more important than the love of science, for men in average situations, but radically unfitting them for the task of scientific investigation”, Peirce regards “any practical applications of it to Religion and Conduct as exceedingly dangerous”. And he adds:

  • 51 Peirce, RLT, p. 107-108.

I have not one word to say against the Philosophy of Religion or of Ethics in general or in particular. I only say that for the present, it is all far too dubious to warrant risking any human life upon it. I do not say that Philosophical science should not ultimately influence Religion and Morality. I only say that it should be allowed to do so only with secular slowness and the most conservative caution.51

1.2. The combination of sentiment and rationality in the formation of moral conduct

  • 52 Peirce, CP, 1.574.

14However, the common condemnation of moral rationalism does not prevent (on the contrary it calls for) a strict conception of rationality as a norm, and also, the necessity to build a “system of ethics” (James) or a “doctrine of the normative sciences” which transcends the mere laws of “association”, and utility is guided by ends and ideals to realize. In that respect, if it is an error “to confound an ideal of conduct with a motive to action”,52 it is just the same, impossible to view them as totally separated.

  • 53 Peirce, CP, 7.506.
  • 54 Peirce, CP, 5.133.
  • 55 On this, see Tiercelin 1997.

15Hence, for both James and Peirce, a subtle analysis, involving our whole being, of the way Sentiment and Rationality combine in the formation of moral conduct so as to educate not so much a moral sense as a delicate balance between our ideals and our motives, contributing to a “directly felt fitness with things” (James): in particular, unless ethical norms (which are neither “transcendent” prescriptions nor pure cultural products) were, so to speak, “inhabited” by motives, i.e. not so much moved by emotions as shaped by feelings-dispositions, involving evaluations, they could not really lead us to action, function as genuine regulative principles, i.e. not as mere “hopes”, but as “living hopes”53 (Peirce’s equivalent to James’s “living options”). And our moral ideals would then rather look like the categorical imperative of the “transcendental apothecaries”, not much more valuable than the “barking of a cur” or “the hooting of an owl”.54 Incidentally, if norms are based from the start on the feelings and values which go along the process of their elaboration, it means that Putnam is wrong to link Peirce, on the one hand, with Habermas and Apel, on the other – at least if the latter’s main contribution to ethics lies, as he urges, in maintaining a separation between “values” (reduced to mere “subjective preferences”) and “norms” which are supposed to rule our “ethical life” within the context of the “ethics of communicative reason” and discussion. For Peirce, norms are never separated from values; this has to do with his account of norms as, so to speak “emerging” from (and not irreducible to) nature.55

  • 56 Hookway, 2000, Truth, Rationality and Pragmatism, p. 239, cf. Tiercelin, 2005, Le Doute en question(...)

16Both Peirce and James insist on the fact that sentiment and feeling in reasoning and inquiry do not reveal the limits of rational self-control. On the contrary, “that we trust our logical sentiments can be a sign of our wisdom and rationality; our instinctive sense of which actions and reasonings are to be trusted can reflect our grasp of what is required of a reasonable agent”, the awareness that “our sentimental attunement to the demands of reason exceeds our intellectual understanding of what rationality involves.”56

  • 57 Putnam, WL, p. 168.

In that respect too, as Hookway emphasizes, Putnam is wrong to identify Peirce’s solution in The Doctrine of Chances to the fact that I recognize the constraining strength of norms which do not possess a satisfactory instrumental justification in terms of my own purposes;57 in other words, through a sort of “normative reflection on our practice”. As a matter of fact, altruism does not seem to be the result of any rational calculus or justification: it rather appears as “immediately” rational. If there is indeed for Peirce a “primitive conception of rationality”, it is in the sense in which the “social principle is rooted in our logic”, and in which such a sentiment is imperatively required by logic, something which has more to do with a kind of “revelation” than with any prescription.

  • 58 Peirce, CP, 1.673.

17See how Peirce views our duties as “mere cells of the social organism”, and as merging into the “universal continuum”.58


  • 59 Peirce, CP, 2.198.

It is impossible to be completely and rationally logical except on an ethical basis.59

Compare here Peirce and James:

  • 60 Peirce, The Doctrine of Chances, 3, p. 281-284.

An individual inference must be true or false, and can show no effect of probability; and therefore, in reference to a single case considered in itself, probability can have no meaning. Yet if a man had to choose between drawing a card from a pack containing twenty-five red cards and a black one, or from a pack containing twenty-five black cards and a red one, and if the drawing of a red card were destined to transport him to eternal felicity, and that of a black one to consign him to everlasting woe, it would be folly to deny that he ought to prefer the pack containing the larger proportion of red cards, although, from the nature of the risk, it could not be repeated. It is not easy to reconcile this with our analysis of the conception of chance. […] Now it is not necessary for logicality that a man should himself be capable of the heroism of self-sacrifice. It is sufficient that he should recognize the possibility of it, should perceive that only that man’s inferences who has it are really logical, and should consequently regard his own as being so only so far as they should be accepted by the hero. So far as he thus refers his inferences to that standard, he becomes identified with such a mind.60

Now James:

  • 61 James, “The Sentiment of Rationality”, WB, p. 79n.

At most, the command laid upon us by science to believe nothing not yet verified by the senses is a prudential rule intended to maximize our right thinking and minimize our errors in the long run. In the particular instance, we must frequently lose truth by obeying it; but, on the whole, we are safer if we follow it consistently, for we are sure to cover our losses with our gains. It is like those gambling and insurance rules based on probability, in which we secure ourselves against losses in detail by hedging in the long run. But this hedging philosophy requires that that long run should be there; and this makes it inapplicable to the question of religious faith as the latter comes home to the individual man. He plays the game of life not to escape losses, for he brings nothing with him to lose; he plays it for gains; and it is now or never with him, for the long run, which exists indeed for humanity, is not there for him. Let him doubt, believe, or deny, he runs his risk, and has the natural right to choose which one it shall be.61

18So even if the “cool-hearted”, “scholastic absolutist” Peirce insists more on the emergence of ethical norms from nature on the model of logical norms, and on the controlled and deliberate character of conduct, while the “human” James insists more on our perception of our obligations towards the “cries of the wounded”, both underline the need for an ethical community (or “moral republic”) in which it is less important to aim at a “system” than to refine one’s ethical dispositions or virtues by deepening one’s skills, regarding as well the “specific emotions” and “moral perceptions” required for the determination of the ideals to follow, as the capacities for deliberation and decision, in order to have better arms to meet more and more complex ethical situations but also to resist all attempts at “fixing” our beliefs, which all sorts of methods of authority might retort to.

1.3. A cognitive approach to ethics

  • 62 Putnam, CFVD, p. 104.
  • 63 Putnam, EWO, p. 73.
  • 64 Putnam, EWO, p. 19
  • 65 Putnam, EWO.

19This is why, basically, pragmatists have a cognitive approach to ethics. Conservative sentimentalism indeed, but always together with Control and Criticism, as applied to oneself but also to all those who might constitute a threat, for oneself as for others, to their free exercise.To that extent, even if ethics is a matter of perception, one should be aware of the difference there is between immediate valuing and evaluation: as Dewey stressed, it is not because something is immediately valued, that it is valuable62; again, although they reject moral rationalism, refuse the dualism of reason and sentiment, the strict dualism of logic and epistemology, on the one hand, and of ethics on the other, they assert the reality of values and of norms, and claim the possibility of an ethics in which the notions of truth, objectivity, normativity but also of experimentation and fallibility continue not only to make sense but to impose themselves, although they do not have to be founded on such and such essential definition of the good, or such and such a priori faculty, or to give up values, emotions and interests. In other words, the anti-theoretical attitude of the pragmatists must not be viewed as a rejection of “moral philosophy” nor as a rejection of the interest one might find in examining such and such meta-ethical question: incidentally, if it is as important in ethics as in logic to reason well, the moral philosopher is in a better position if he is a good logician and a good epistemologist, and (at least in Peirce’s case) a good metaphysician. All the more so as meta-ethics, even limited to casuistics, is an important part of moral philosophy. This requires to have one’s ideas clear about the moral terms, concepts, assertions and judgements, which are much more varied and complex than one usually thinks they are,63 and not to trust some vague conceptions or theories of the Good,64 or even to be merely concerned by the only needs, interests, values – however crucial they may be, as James and Putnam keep stressing65 – of the individuals.

  • 66 Peirce, CP, 1.576.

20And this is why, also, contrary to what is often claimed, there is just as much in James, as in Peirce, a perfect (Aristotelian) awareness of the links to be drawn between our cognitive or epistemic reasons and virtues, on the one hand, and our practical and ethical reasons and virtues on the other. Although Peirce may not be considered as what we would call today a virtue epistemologist, he also insists on the qualities of character one should have in order to lead inquiry in the proper way and he finds it paradoxical that one might conceive that “a rogue might be as good a reasoner as a man of honor.”66

  • 67 Peirce, CP, 1.576.

I hope I shall not be thought to wander if I note one observation by the way, before formally settling down to the question. Were there nothing in reasoning more than the old traditional treatises set forth, then a rogue might be as good a reasoner as a man of honor; although a coward could not, even under such an idea of reasoning. But, in induction, a habit of probity is needed for success: a trickster is sure to play the confidence game upon himself. And, in addition to probity, industry is essential. In the presumptive choice of hypotheses, still higher virtues are needed – a true elevation of soul. At the very lowest, a man must prefer the truth to his own interest and well-being, and not merely to his bread and butter, and to his own vanity, too, if he is to do much in science. This will appear in the logical discussion; and it is thoroughly borne out by examining the characters of scientific men and of great heuretic students of all kinds. It is a remarkable fact that, excluding idle tales about pre-socratic philosophers, all history does not tell of a single man who has considerably increased human knowledge (unless theology be knowledge) having been proved a criminal. Of the four or five instances usually adduced, Seneca neither contributed to knowledge nor has been convicted of positive crime; Calvin was nothing but a theologian; the attacks upon Erasmus are beneath contempt; Bacon was no man of science, but only a grandiose writer, whose very style betrays him; Dr. Dodd was an ordinary commentator on the Bible; and nothing was proved against Libri. The same may be said of whispers that this or that naturalist purloined specimens in the interest of science. The lofty character of the true man of science, physical or psychical, finds not one exception among a hundred. But it is needless to go to history for cases in which relatively small obliquities have prevented eminent scientists from achieving higher successes; for they abound in the experience of everybody who knows the scientific world from within. If it were true that every fallacy were a sin, logic would be reduced to a branch of moral philosophy. This is not true. But we can perceive that good reasoning and good morals are closely allied; and I suspect that with the further development of ethics this relation will be found to be even more intimate than we can, as yet, prove it to be.67

  • 68 On all this, see Tiercelin, 2005, Le Doute en question, p. 184ff.

21Just the same, and even if his approach does not concern inquiry properly, one way to understand the famous debate between James and Clifford in The Will to Believe is to view it as James’s conviction that the only way to act ethically (hence, in his view, rationally and logically) in such a circumstance, is to take the “risk” of considering that, in some cases, practical reasons should outweigh epistemic reasons. If, for James, we have not only the will but the obligation to believe, it is because the only way to overthrow the moral sceptic, this “active ally of immorality” is by refusing the illusion it gives us that something like neutrality is possible. To that extent, Putnam is right when he insists that the main contribution of the pragmatists to the ethical debate has consisted (1) in rejecting the positivist distinction between fact and value, (2) in refusing to reduce rationality to mere scientific or instrumental rationality, (3) but also in refusing ethical relativism and adopting a cognitive approach to ethics.68

1.4. On the objectivity of ethical values

  • 69 Putnam, WL, p. 154.

22According to Putnam, the classical pragmatists should be particularly praised for having refused to conclude from their rejection of the idea of a “first philosophy” superior to practice, of some “Archimedian point” from which we could claim that what is indispensable in life “gilt nicht in der Philosophie69, from their rejection as well of a clearcut dichotomy between facts and values, that, as a consequence, value judgements are nothing more than mere judgements of taste: on the contrary, they emphasize that we do argue seriously about them, try to make them hold together in a coherent way, and appeal to the same logical laws when reasoning on an ethical question as when reasoning on a problem in, e.g., set theory:

  • 70 Putnam, WL, p. 156.

Pragmatists do not urge us to ignore sound arguments against what we believe, when such arguments are advanced; they do urge us not to confuse the ‘intuitions’ of metaphysicians with genuine arguments.70

  • 71 Putnam, POQ, p. 22.
  • 72 Putnam, POQ, p. 19.
  • 73 Putnam, POQ, p. 19.
  • 74 Putnam, WL, p. 201.
  • 75 Putnam, WL, p. 201.
  • 76 Cf. Putnam’s critique of John Mackie’s conception in WL, p. 156-160.
  • 77 Putnam, WL, p. 160.
  • 78 Putnam, RHF, p. 176.
  • 79 Putnam, RHF, p. 177.
  • 80 Putnam, WL, p. 155.

23Among such erroneous intuitions, to which James (and maybe even more, Dewey) never fell into, that of “the (false) opposition between philosophy which is concerned with how to live and philosophy which is concerned with hard technical questions”,71 which is often associated with the “fetichism of a method” following only algorithmic criteria and canons, and with scepticism towards the possibility of objectivity of ethical values. In showing that fact, theory, value, interpretation are all interdependent,72 the central idea of the pragmatist “temperament” is, simply, to promote a “more realistic (vision) than the vision of those who try to convince us that the familiar dualisms must be correct.”73 For Dewey, there is no foundation: “we can only start from where we are,”74 which includes “both our sufferings and enjoyments (our valuings) and our evaluations, the latter coming from our community and from ourselves.”75 But to abandon cultural imperialism and absolutism does not imply that relativism remains the only possible choice. To be a “realist” means precisely to reject the view that the value judgements we make in ethics have no cognitive status.76 On the contrary, pragmatists show that the belief in such a status “underlies an enormous amount of our practice (indirectly, perhaps, maybe the whole of our practice) and that metaphysical arguments that say that, notwithstanding the indispensability of the ‘realist’ stance that we adopt toward value disputes in practice, realism with respect to values cannot possibly be right, are themselves unsupported by anything more than a collection of metaphysical dogmas.”77 Refuting the view Bernard Williams defends in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, according to which “the idea of ethical objectivity is metaphysically unacceptable,”78 Putnam defends what “Dewey and Peirce taught us”, namely that “real questions require a context and a point”79 and that “the problem is to keep moral disagreement within the bounds of community and productive cooperation,” the “challenge” being “to make moral disagreement serve as a stimulus to the kind of criticism of institutions and values that is needed for progress towards justice and progress in enabling citizens to live in accordance with their various conceptions of the good life.”80 Therefore, we are not confined to choosing between scientism and scepticism. We should only accept

  • 81 Putnam, RHF, p. 178)

the position we are fated to occupy in any case, the position of beings who cannot have a view of the world that does not reflect our interests and values, but who are, for all that, committed to regarding some views of the world – and for that matter, some interests and values – as better than others. This may mean giving up a certain metaphysical picture of objectivity, but it does not mean giving up the idea that there are what Dewey called ‘objective resolutions of problematic situations’ – objective resolutions to problems which are situated in a place, at a time, as opposed to an ‘absolute’ answer to ‘perspective-independent’ questions. And that is objectivity enough81.

  • 82 Putnam, Rph, p. 2.
  • 83 Putnam, WL, p. 170-1

But it implies more than giving up the idea of “a single theory that explains everything” of “an absolute conception of the world”;82 it implies that one adopts a method which is very far from the inductivist (Carnapian) conception of inquiry.83

  • 84 Putnam, WL, p. 151.

24The classical pragmatists, despite the differences or even disagreements between them, held (1) that “positions on the ‘abstract’ questions of moral objectivity have real world effects;” (2) that “the justifications which are offered for ethical skepticism at a philosophical level will not stand up examination;” (3) that to show that “the foundations of the idea that there is no rationality beyond purely instrumental rationality are in trouble, may help to combat that instrumentalization and that manipulation.”84

  • 85 Putnam, WL, p. 155.

Pragmatists have anticipated an idea that has become a commonplace in contemporary moral philosophy, the idea that disagreement in individual conceptions of the good need not make it impossible to approximate (even if we never finally arrive at) agreement on just procedures and even agreement on such abstract and formal values as respect for another’s autonomy, non instrumentalization of other persons, and such regulative ideas as the idea that in all our institutions we should strive to replace relations of hierarchy and dependence by relations of “symmetric reciprocity”.85

  • 86 Putnam, RTH, p. 137.

25Hence, one should (1) reject the positivistic opposition between, on the one hand, facts and “physical” propositions, the reasons guiding scientific choices, and, on the other hand, value or ethical judgments; (2) cease to reduce rationality to mere “scientific” rationality and “broaden the notion of standards of rational acceptability”;86 (3) reject ethical relativism.

  • 87 Cf. Putnam, RTH, and Putnam, 1962, “What Theories are not”, in terms of his rejection of the theore (...)
  • 88 Putnam, POQ, p. 13-18.
  • 89 Putnam, RTH, p. 137.

26These are themes Putnam has been stressing on and on: “just” or “unjust”, “good” and “evil”, “better” and “worse” are terms that are as indispensable in science as in social and private life, because there is no dichotomy between fact and value.87 Far from being devoid of “cognitive value”, value judgements (such as coherence and simplicity) are presupposed in all knowledge: fact and value interpenetrate;88 the truths of science are relevant, deep, non-trivial truths.89 But, at the same time, terms supposed to have a function of ethical evaluation (such as “scrupulous”) also have a descriptive, explicative or predictive function. All scientific choices are based on norms and values, which are not only cognitive, but ethical.

  • 90 Putnam, POQ, p. 15.

Philosophical issues are mixed with “scientific” ones, and cultural and even metaphysical preconceptions play a role.90

  • 91 Putnam, RTH, p. 211-214.

As a consequence, ethical opinions and choices can be submitted to criteria and, just as epistemological opinions and choices are justified by objective reasons, the basic problem being then to avoid that such an ethical cognitivism should not imply some form or other of ethical authoritarianism. Hence, it should be possible to show how the choice of life of the “rational nazi” is both bad and irrational.91. Thus,

the notion of truth itself depends for its content on our standards of rational acceptability, and these in turn rest on and presuppose our values.

Put briefly,

  • 92 Putnam, RTH, p. 215.

“theory of truth presupposes theory of rationality which in turn presupposes our theory of the good”92.

27The main objective should then be the following: how are we to justify that such rational norms are, rather than others, the “acceptable” ones? As Putnam admits:

  • 93 Putnam, RTH, p. 216.

We can only hope to produce a more rational conception of rationality or a better conception of morality which we operate from within our tradition.93

  • 94 Putnam, RTH, p. 216.

But how can we be sure that there exists “a true conception of rationality, a true morality, even if all we ever have are our conceptions of these?”94

28Such a kind of questioning is common to all pragmatists. Hence, if the points of departure between pragmatists should not be located at the level of their awareness of the depth the sceptical challenge poses to ethics nor, fundamentally, at the level of their respective answers to it, where should they be? Well, I think they are located at the level of the difference of priority they give (or real interest they manifest) in fully answering also both the epistemological and the metaphysical aspects of the sceptical challenge.

2. The epistemological challenge.

29As I said, avoiding scepticism means that one should be able to answer such questions as: do we know anything? How is our knowledge grounded? Are our beliefs justified? What is the pragmatists’ position on that issue? Well undoubtedly, even if, as I noted previously, such issues are not foreign to any of them, they do not all give them the same weight. It is obvious that Peirce and Dewey or Ramsey attach a greater importance than James and the latest Putnam (whatever their differences may be in their respective and very sophisticated elaborations of the term and of the variety of problems it covers) to the term “logic” in the “human logic of truth”.

  • 95 Susan Haack, 1997b, “‘The Ethics of Belief’ Reconsidered”.
  • 96 “Belief is desecrated when given to unproved and unquestioned statements for the solace and private (...)
  • 97 I have analyzed their respective approaches in Tiercelin, 2005, Le Doute en question, p. 196ff.

30We find an illustration of this point of departure in the classical dialogue between Clifford and James in The Will to Believe. The analyzed case is that of a ship’s owner who, “knowingly and voluntarily” eliminates all his doubts, does not proceed to technical verifications of the ship, begins to believe sincerely that his ship is able to leave, and lets the ship sail. Clifford says: he did not have the right to believe upon his available evidence, and is indeed guilty for the death of the passengers and the crew caused by the shipwreck. I am not going to go into the details of this much discussed debate, which raises so many important questions such as (to quote but a few of them): to what extent does knowledge lead to human flourishing? Are there cases in which it is better to do without any knowledge? Is it always better, morally, as it is the case, epistemically, to find all the available evidence? Or are there ways to attain evidence which contradict ethics? Is a non-justified belief always nocuous? Or is it at times innocuous or even beneficial? As Susan Haack in particular has pointed out,95 the dialogue of the deaf which takes place between James and Clifford96 and which gives the impression in the end that Clifford is too demanding, from a moral point of view, while James is too permissive, epistemically speaking, comes from the fact that they do not make a clear enough distinction, as they should, even if they are pragmatists, between what counts as an epistemological justification and what counts as an ethical justification. Peirce would be against a pure reduction of epistemological norms to ethical norms but in favor of some overlap (rather than correlation) of both. In the Clifford-James debate, he would side (from an epistemological point of view) with Clifford: “it is always wrong to believe anything on the basis of insufficient evidence”, but would agree with James from an ethical point of view.97

31Too demanding, ethically speaking indeed, on Clifford’s side, who claims that no one should ever believe anything on insufficient evidence, since you cannot always blame someone for believing and acting on insufficient evidence. For:

  • 98 See Peirce, CP, 5.503.

(1) there are cases in which a belief is unjustified although its moral evaluation may be simply indifferent or even favourable;98

(2) this would imply that a moral ought implies a can, hence that one should always be able to induce in oneself a belief (in others words, that one could believe at will; now, such a doxastic voluntarism has nothing obvious, or sounds at least paradoxical because again it implies that one should be able to perform an act of believing for mere practical reasons having nothing to do with epistemic ones);

(3) it would amount to treating all unjustified beliefs as arising from either doxastic incontinence or self-deception, and overlooking the possible (individual or cultural) cognitive inadequacy of the agent for which the agent cannot be held responsible hence not blamed;

(4) it would be overlooking also the fact that, because of the perspectivist aspect of our judgements of justification and their relying on a background of beliefs, the judgement according to which somebody else’ belief is unjustified is itself fallible;

(5) and, most of all, it would amount to not seeing that the epistemological ideal one should have lies in a search less for “sufficient” reasons than for the most adequate evidence in terms of independence, comprehension, autonomy. Indeed when may we say that the evidence is “sufficient”? When we have our ideas clear and distinct (Descartes)? When they are in conformity with the laws of logic? When they render a hypothesis highly probable? It is hard to find an agreement here or to take an a priori decision without begging the question one way or another.

  • 99 See Haack, 1997b (reprint 2001, p. 27-29).

32But on James’s side, the distinction between both kinds of justification is not clear enough either99.

  • 100 My emphasis.
  • 101 James, “The Sentiment of Rationality”, WB, p. 80.

Now, I wish to show that to my knowledge has never been clearly pointed out, that belief (as measured by action) not only does and must continually outstrip scientific evidence, but that there is a certain class of truths of whose reality belief is a factor as well as a confessor; and that as regards this class of truths faith is not only licit and pertinent, but essential and indisputable. The truths cannot become true till our faith has made them so.100 Suppose, for example, that I am climbing the Alps, and have has the ill-luck to work myself into a position from which the only escape is by a terrible leap. Being without similar experience, I have no evidence of my ability to perform it successfully; but hope and confidence in myself make me sure that I shall not miss my aim, and nerve my feet to execute what without those subjective emotions would perhaps have been impossible. But suppose that, on the contrary, the emotions of fear and mistrust preponderate; or suppose that, having just read the Ethics of Belief, I feel it would be sinful to act upon an assumption unverified by previous experience, why, then I shall hesitate so long that at last, exhausted and trembling, and launching myself in a moment of despair, I miss my foothold and roll into the abyss. In this case (and it is one of an immense class) the part of wisdom clearly is to believe what one desires; for the belief is one of the indispensable preliminary conditions of the realization of its object. There are then cases where faith creates its own verification. Believe, and you shall be right, for you shall have saved yourself; doubt, and you shall again be right, for you shall perish. The only difference is that to believe is greatly to your advantage.101


  • 102 James, WB, p. 20.

Our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds; for to say, under such circumstances, “Do not decide, but leave the question open”, is itself a passional decision, - just like deciding yes or no, - and is attended with the same risk of losing the truth.102

  • 103 James adopts this position all the more easily as his anti-theoretical attitude and his criticism i (...)

33James holds that it is not always bad to believe on insufficient evidence. This would be fair enough, as Haack notes, if he meant it from an ethical standpoint. But it is not exactly what he does. He finds Clifford’s view a narrow, philistine and coward one. There are cases in which we can and should say: “We must know the truth” instead of “we must avoid error”,103 in which it is good (even rational) to believe contrary to the available evidence. If we had to respect Clifford’s rule, it would go against our “passional nature”, and even, against our own interest in terms of knowledge.

34James recognizes that suspending one’s judgement is not ill founded, in all cases in which we are not facing “living options” (as when we have to choose which view to adopt on the Roentgen rays). In such cases,

  • 104 James, WB, 25-26.

Wherever the option between losing the truth and gaining it is not momentous, we can throw the chance of gaining truth away and at any rate save ourselves from any chance of believing falsehood by not making up our minds at all till objective evidence has come. In scientific questions this is almost always the case; and even in human affairs in general, the need of acting is seldom so urgent that a false belief to act on is better than no belief at all.104

This does not only apply to scientific matters, but also to human affairs. In such cases, the sceptical épochè is, if not recommended, at least admitted.

  • 105 James, WB, p. 26.

The choice between believing truth and falsehood is seldom forced. The attitude of sceptical balance is therefore the absolutely wise one if we would escape mistakes.105

In other words, James’s rejection of moral scepticism is all the more “justified” as James has, at the outset, conceded a lot to the sceptic. And he concedes a lot, too, in the end, in claiming that there is no way to “refute” the sceptic with logic, which remains “speechless” in front of it.

  • 106 James, WB, p. 19.

If a pyrrhonist sceptic asks us how we know all this, can our logic find a reply? No! Certainly it cannot. [...] If we had an infallible intellect with its objective certitude, we might fell ourselves disloyal to such a perfect organ of knowledge in not trusting to it exclusively, in not waiting for its releasing word. But if we are empiricists, if we believe that no bell in us tolls to let us know for certain when truth is in our grasp, then it seems a piece of idle fantasticality to preach so solemnly our duty of waiting for the bell.106

  • 107 James, WB, p. 74, 77 & 108.
  • 108 For example: “No philosophy will permanently be deemed rational by all men which (in addition to me (...)
  • 109 James, WB, p. 17ff.
  • 110 James, WB, p. 23-24.
  • 111 James, WB, p. 30, and the quotation borrowed from Fitz-James Stephen, WB, p. 33.
  • 112 James, WB, p. 26.
  • 113 The distinction is articulated in more details in Haack, Evidence and Inquiry,1993, chapter 10.

35James seems to make a constant confusion here between ethical and epistemic criteria of justification; for he claims (wrongly) that (1) one can believe at will (James’s doxastic voluntarism107 as if believing and doubting, as Peirce would say, are as easy as lying), out of some “passional decision” so independently of the epistemic reasons one may have to believe; (2) that it may be good to, or, even that one should in many cases, believe out of will, and that it may be rational to do so;108 and even (3) that it may be good to be irrational: i.e., if it is rational to believe only in proportion to what one is justified in believing, it may be at times good (useful, rational) not to be rational. But James seems to use at times arguments that are meant in an epistemological sense: knowing the truth is no less valuable than avoiding error;109 believing that p sometimes contributes to help seeing that p is true110 and at times arguments that have an ethical character: that we should not blame those who have faith without founding themselves on sufficient evidence and that we should respect everyone’s freedom111. But not only does not James seem to distinguish enough both kinds of justification: neither does he distinguish enough what can hold and even be valued at the level of inquiry from what holds in terms of epistemic justification. Hence, stressing that it is sometimes better (from an epistemological point of view) to believe something even if evidence is insufficient, he takes the example of the man of science whose insufficiently grounded faith in a theory motivates to the pursuit of its confirmation, and thus makes research progress.112. Now this does not have to do with the conception of epistemic justification but rather with the question of the conduct of inquiry.113

36And this may explain why the “good old friend” Peirce, to whom The Will to Believe had been dedicated, thought it useful in the letter in which he thanked James, to specify the following:

  • 114 Peirce, CP, 8.251 (1897).

As to “belief” and “making up one’s mind”, if they mean anything more than this, that we have a plan of procedure, and that according to that plan we will try a given description of behaviour, I am inclined to think they do more harm than good. “Faith”, in the sense that one will adhere consistently to a given line of conduct, is highly necessary in affairs. But if it means you are not going to be alert for indications that the moment has come to change your tactics, I think it ruinous in practice.114

37I have not touched the metaphysical challenge yet, but needless to say that, apart from Peirce, no pragmatist would take it not so much as an unimportant challenge – for, of course we may take James’s radical empiricism or Putnam’s natural realism as ways of answering the Cartesian challenge in developing a convincing account of how our perception relates us to the world – as the generally unfelt necessity, in order to meet it, to elaborate some kind of realistic metaphysics, even less, a “scientific” one, as Peirce is urging one to do. Putnam’s last book is quite clear about this: Ethics without ontology should be the motto.

38So, to a certain extent, apart from Peirce, Dewey and Ramsey, the other pragmatists do not seem to take it as an important obligation to have a close look at the questions that should be carefully examined at the epistemological and metaphysical sides of the sceptical challenge, nor do they see why we should find this in any way “efficient” in terms of our best means of avoiding it. However I would like, in conclusion, to give some reasons why I think the latter party is wrong, and why, in that respect we should rather favour the Peircian or “pragmaticist” attitude.


1 Simon Blackburn, 1998, “Wittgenstein, Wright and Minimalism”, p. 157.

2 Putnam, POQ, p. xii.

3 Putnam, POQ, p. 2.

4 Putnam, TTC, p. 5.

5 Putnam, DL, p. 447 & TTC, p. 5.

6 Putnam, WL, p. 152.

7 Peirce, CP, 8.112.

8 Putnam, in RP, p. 186.

9 Putnam, in RP, p. 180.

10 Putnam, in RP, p. 196-7.

11 Putnam, WL, p. 174.

12 Putnam, WL, p. 204-205.

13 Putnam, POQ, p. 6.

14 Putnam, MFR, p. 80ff. & WL, p. 160-161.

15 Putnam, WL, p. 160.

16 Peirce, W 3, p. 282.

17 Putnam, WL, p. 161.

18 Putnam, MFR, p. 83.

19 Putnam, WL, p. 163.

20 Putnam, WL, p. 164.

21 Putnam, WL, p. 168.

22 Putnam, WL, p. 167.

23 Peirce, CP, 2.198).

24 I have analyzed this in detail in chap. V of Tiercelin, 2005, Le Doute en question, p. 146ff.

25 Peirce, RLT, p. 115-116.

26 Peirce, RLT, p. 111.

27 Peirce, CP, 1.57.

28 Peirce, CP, 1.56.

29 Peirce, CP, 1.58.

30 Ramsey, 1931, The Foundations of Mathematics, p. 291-292.

31 Peirce, CP, 1.655.

32 Peirce, CP, 5.60.

33 Peirce, RLT, p. 111.

34 Peirce, RLT, p. 110-112

35 Peirce, Ms 437, 14.

36 James, “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life”, in WB, p. 141ff.

37 Peirce, CP, 1.50.

38 Peirce, CP, 1.50.

39 Peirce, CP, 2.82.

40 Peirce, CP, 1.13.

41 Peirce, CP, 1.635.

42 Peirce, CP, 5.589.

43 Peirce, CP, 5.582.

44 Peirce, CP, 1.40.

45 Peirce, CP, 1.236.

46 Peirce, RLT, p. 107.

47 Peirce, CP, 1.76.

48 Peirce, RLT, p. 107.

49 Peirce, RLT, p. 107.

50 Peirce, RLT, p. 117.

51 Peirce, RLT, p. 107-108.

52 Peirce, CP, 1.574.

53 Peirce, CP, 7.506.

54 Peirce, CP, 5.133.

55 On this, see Tiercelin 1997.

56 Hookway, 2000, Truth, Rationality and Pragmatism, p. 239, cf. Tiercelin, 2005, Le Doute en question, p. 172ff.

57 Putnam, WL, p. 168.

58 Peirce, CP, 1.673.

59 Peirce, CP, 2.198.

60 Peirce, The Doctrine of Chances, 3, p. 281-284.

61 James, “The Sentiment of Rationality”, WB, p. 79n.

62 Putnam, CFVD, p. 104.

63 Putnam, EWO, p. 73.

64 Putnam, EWO, p. 19

65 Putnam, EWO.

66 Peirce, CP, 1.576.

67 Peirce, CP, 1.576.

68 On all this, see Tiercelin, 2005, Le Doute en question, p. 184ff.

69 Putnam, WL, p. 154.

70 Putnam, WL, p. 156.

71 Putnam, POQ, p. 22.

72 Putnam, POQ, p. 19.

73 Putnam, POQ, p. 19.

74 Putnam, WL, p. 201.

75 Putnam, WL, p. 201.

76 Cf. Putnam’s critique of John Mackie’s conception in WL, p. 156-160.

77 Putnam, WL, p. 160.

78 Putnam, RHF, p. 176.

79 Putnam, RHF, p. 177.

80 Putnam, WL, p. 155.

81 Putnam, RHF, p. 178)

82 Putnam, Rph, p. 2.

83 Putnam, WL, p. 170-1

84 Putnam, WL, p. 151.

85 Putnam, WL, p. 155.

86 Putnam, RTH, p. 137.

87 Cf. Putnam, RTH, and Putnam, 1962, “What Theories are not”, in terms of his rejection of the theoretical/observational distinction.

88 Putnam, POQ, p. 13-18.

89 Putnam, RTH, p. 137.

90 Putnam, POQ, p. 15.

91 Putnam, RTH, p. 211-214.

92 Putnam, RTH, p. 215.

93 Putnam, RTH, p. 216.

94 Putnam, RTH, p. 216.

95 Susan Haack, 1997b, “‘The Ethics of Belief’ Reconsidered”.

96 “Belief is desecrated when given to unproved and unquestioned statements for the solace and private pleasure of the believer. […] Whoso would deserve well of his fellows in this matter will guard the purity of his belief with a very fanaticism of jealous care, lest at any time it should rest on an unworthy object, and catch a stain which can never be wiped away. […] If [a] belief has been accepted on insufficient evidence [even though the belief be true, as Clifford on the same page explains], the pleasure is a stolen one. […] It is sinful because it is stolen in defiance of our duty to mankind. That duty is to guard us from such beliefs as from a pestilence which may shortly master our own body and then spread to the rest of the town. […] It is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” (Clifford, 1877, The Ethics of Belief, p. 77, as quoted by James, WB, p. 17)

97 I have analyzed their respective approaches in Tiercelin, 2005, Le Doute en question, p. 196ff.

98 See Peirce, CP, 5.503.

99 See Haack, 1997b (reprint 2001, p. 27-29).

100 My emphasis.

101 James, “The Sentiment of Rationality”, WB, p. 80.

102 James, WB, p. 20.

103 James adopts this position all the more easily as his anti-theoretical attitude and his criticism in the first pages of The Will to Believe of “objective evidence” and “absolutism” only separates him from dogmatic scepticism by a hair’s breadth. It is a constant theme of his: the empiricist, as soon as he starts reflection, cannot avoid the risk of scepticism. And realizing such a danger does not count for nothing in James’s doxastic voluntarism. See also: “Our science is a drop, our ignorance, a sea.” (James, WB, p. 50) Or again: “There is but one indefectibly certain truth, and that is the truth that pyrrhonistic scepticism itself leaves standing, the truth that the present phenomenon of consciousness exists.” (WB, p. 22 & 23) The aim is to make something positive of that, in fact deeply sceptical, awareness.

104 James, WB, 25-26.

105 James, WB, p. 26.

106 James, WB, p. 19.

107 James, WB, p. 74, 77 & 108.

108 For example: “No philosophy will permanently be deemed rational by all men which (in addition to meeting logical demands) does not to some degree pretend to determine expectancy, and in a still greater degree makes a direct appeal to all those powers of our nature which we hold in higher esteem. Faith being one of these powers, will always remain a factor not to be banished from philosophical construction, the more so since in many ways it brings forth its own verification.” (James, WB, p. 89) Or: “Of two conceptions equally fit to satisfy the logical demand, that one which awakens the active impulses, or satisfies other aesthetic demands better than the other, will be accounted the more rational conception, and will deservedly prevail.” (WB, p. 66) See also WB, p. 29, 69, & 81.

109 James, WB, p. 17ff.

110 James, WB, p. 23-24.

111 James, WB, p. 30, and the quotation borrowed from Fitz-James Stephen, WB, p. 33.

112 James, WB, p. 26.

113 The distinction is articulated in more details in Haack, Evidence and Inquiry,1993, chapter 10.

114 Peirce, CP, 8.251 (1897).

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