Quote of the Week: Misak on Peirce and Peirce on Doubt and Action

In Peirce’s view, what is wrong with the state of doubt is not that is uncomfortable, although it is in fact uncomfortable. What is wrong with doubt is that it leads to a paralysis of action.

-Cheryl Misak, The American Pragmatists, p. 33

I consider Misak one of the best current scholars of pragmatism and in this quote she captures a distinctive feature of pragmatist thought. Many philosopher have produced theories about belief and knowing, but the pragmatists have their own theory of doubt, which they turned against the Cartesian scepticism.

Misak’s quote points out the strong connection between doubt and action, or rather paralysis of action. I wonder, however, whether we should say that causing paralysis of action is wrong. Is it not the function of doubt to stop action? And in many situations such a pause to action in light of doubt might be advisable. If in doubt whether the bridge will carry the weight of my car, I should stop in front of it.

However, the pragmatists seem to think that the paralysis is always something to be overcome. At least until the end of the universe, action has primacy. Doubt plays a role in redirecting the action, giving it a secondary role.

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