The following excerpt is from the book "Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It":

Charles Sanders Peirce [...] argued that our ideas are a response to problems that we become conscious of as posed by our experiences, and we accept as true those ideas that “solve” the problem.

Does anyone know where the above concepts are found in Peirce's collected papers?


2 Answers 2


The quote might actually serve as (part of) a definition of the pragmatic theory of truth. In the following three articles (freely available on the Web from archive.org, etc.), Peirce pretty much clearly expands on his own strand:

Peirce, C. Sanders (1877). "The Fixation of Belief", Popular Science Monthly 12, pp. 1–15.

Peirce, C. Sanders (1878). “How to Make Our Ideas Clear”, Popular Science Monthly 12, pp. 286–302.

Peirce, C. Sanders (1905). “What Pragmatism is”, Monist 15, pp. 161–181.


Perhaps this, from section IV of "The Fixation of Belief":

The irritation of doubt causes a struggle to attain a state of belief. I shall term this struggle inquiry, though it must be admitted that this is sometimes not a very apt designation.

The irritation of doubt is the only immediate motive for the struggle to attain belief. It is certainly best for us that our beliefs should be such as may truly guide our actions so as to satisfy our desires; and this reflection will make us reject any belief which does not seem to have been so formed as to insure this result. But it will only do so by creating a doubt in the place of that belief. With the doubt, therefore, the struggle begins, and with the cessation of doubt it ends. Hence, the sole object of inquiry is the settlement of opinion.

  • But in order to have irritation of doubt about something, it seems to me that you need to be aware of some sort of (conscious?) belief about the same thing. When one poses a question about a practical or theoretical problem sometimes he doesn't need to have any conscious beliefs about it other than the assumptions in the question,the question might just register in his mind and may in time yield a conscious solution that may be doubted etc. So the quote from my question doesn't contradict this but your reference text from Peirce does contradict it.
    – GEP
    Aug 5, 2021 at 8:49
  • 1
    @GEP I'd say Peirce is using "doubt" to refer to the awareness that one is not confident of a proposition, neither for nor against it, which he contrasts with a state of belief. He says doubt precedes belief or disbelief in the proposition, and is resolved and eliminated by the attainment of belief.
    – causative
    Aug 5, 2021 at 9:01
  • The desire to solve a question doesn't seem to me to always require some sort of uncertainty about a proposition. Anyway, I was hoping that Peirce wrote something closer to the meaning of my original quote.
    – GEP
    Aug 5, 2021 at 9:16
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    @GEP Your quote was "our ideas are a response to problems that we become conscious of as posed by our experiences, and we accept as true those ideas that 'solve' the problem." Problems that we become conscious of = irritation of doubt. Accept as true those ideas that solve the problem = settlement of opinion.
    – causative
    Aug 5, 2021 at 10:16
  • Yes the statements can be somewhat mapped to one another(with some loss of meaning) but they aren't the same. To become conscious of something doesn't require you to be irritated with doubt. Say you read a mathematical problem in a book that you are reading but you kept on reading the book(without consciously trying to solve the problem) and lets say after half an hour a solution to that problem comes up out of the blue to your mind. You may need to be uncertain enough(doubt) about it in order to verify it but it wasn't doubt that brought you that solution(or at least it seems that way to me)
    – GEP
    Aug 5, 2021 at 11:47

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