(A Conference Reading at Jersey City State College)


Both Peirce and Dewey have posited the presence of doubt as prerequisite to reflective thinking and a struggle to attain or settle belief.  Such a struggle, Peirce refers to as an "irritation of doubt" and Dewey as a "doubtful or indeterminate" situation.  In Peirce's words:

The irritation of doubt causes a struggle to attain a state of belief. . . .  I shall term this struggle Inquiry though it ... is sometimes not an apt designation. . . .  The irritation of doubt is the only immediate motive for the struggle to attain belief, and the sole object [my italics] of inquiry is the settlement of opinion. (p. 231-232, Fixation of Belief, Collected Papers, 1933.)  

Dewey in turn says, . . .the aim and outcome of thinking in all cases is the transformation of a dubious and perplexing situation into a settled or determinate one. (p. 178, RBS)  

It is the purpose of this paper, in refuting this position,
      1) to delineate various kinds of doubt (some of which possess no sense of irritation),
      2) to suggest that other psychological states are singularly or pluralistically more predominant as prerequisites to inquiry than is doubt, and
      3) to argue that inquiry is often pursued in the absence of doubt and the desire to settle opinions.
On the one hand, Peirce insists (p. 229f, op. cit.)
      1) There is a dissimilarity between the sensation of doubting and that of believing. 
      2) Our beliefs guide our desires and shape our actions. 
      3) [Belief indicates] some habit which will determine our actions; doubt never has such an effect.
      4) Doubt is an uneasy and dissatisfied state from which we struggle to free ourselves and pass into the state of belief.
      5) [Belief] is a calm and satisfactory state which we do not wish to avoid or to change to a belief in anything else. 
Dewey, on the other hand, points out that
      1) an indeterminate situation is prerequisite as an antecedent condition of inquiry. 
      2) . . .it is of the very nature of the indeterminate situation which evokes inquiry to be questionable; or, in terms of actuality instead of potentiality, to be uncertain, unsettled, disturbed.  (p. 105, Logic)
      3) We are doubtful because the situation is inherently doubtful.  Furthermore there is no inquiry in the absence of an indeterminate situation. 
It appears that Dewey has so defined 'situation' as to make our experience (doubtful or not) part and parcel of the situation.  That is to say, a determinate situation lacks our experience while an indeterminate situation is permeated by such confusion, etc.  In what way is this saying more than, "We are not confused by these events," and "We are confused by these events"?
Surely we would not attribute disorder (chaos) to some segment of order, regulation, or pattern in the universe.  As Peirce says, ". . .all being involves some kind of super-order. . . ." (p.336, Para., 490, op. cit.)  Is it not when we wish to impose our own order upon the universe that confusion, obscurity, etc., arise?
Peirce does not distinguish between the beliefs to which "we cling tenaciously (p. 34, RBS) and those beliefs to which we do not, those beliefs which we often give up with a modicum of "evidence" or persuasion.  I suggest that beliefs to which we hold tenaciously are more accurately described as faith and elicit responses comparable to those of Pavlov's conditioned dog.  They are habits (as Peirce calls such beliefs), and are more physiologically controlled than are others.
Such habits are rarely subject to change; and if so, only when some deconditioning process occurs or when, in some instance we are aware that we are so responding -- as when we start to move forward, in a car, when we unthinkingly notice a red traffic light (not ours) changing to green.
We must, of course, be careful to note that Peirce is speaking to the ways of justifying belief.  He readily admits that ". . .inquiry" is "not a very apt designation" for the struggle to dispel doubt and "to attain a state of belief." (p.231, Ibid.)  He is careful, therefore, to state that he does refer merely to belief: ". . .for as soon as a firm belief is reached we are entirely satisfied, whether the belief be true or false." (p. 232, Ibid.)  Having said this, he declares, "But we think each one of our beliefs to be true. . . ." (Ibid.) --See notes 10 and 11.)
It is clear now that Peirce and Dewey do not mean the same thing by 'doubt' or the 'irritation of doubt'.  For Peirce, it is a state of mind.  For Dewey, it is an indeterminate situation, i.e., an indeterminate "contextual whole" which is variously characterized as ". . . disturbed, troubled, ambiguous, confused, full of conflicting tendencies, obscure, etc." (p. 105-106, Logic)  Nor do Dewey and Peirce seem to agree in dealing with doubt relative to the nature of inquiry.  In both cases doubt appears to be personal (even if not subjective for Dewey) and individual doubt despite Dewey's admonitions that

We are doubtful because the situation is inherently doubtful, and Personal states of doubt that are not evoked by and are not relative to some existential situation are pathological. (Logic, p. 105-106)

How are we to distinguish such "inherent doubt" in the situation from "We are doubtful. . . ."?  There's the ring of tautology or circularity here.  Surely an "existential situation" (I interpret this to include things, objects, events, etc.) cannot be confused or doubtful (only people can be).  It is in the attempt of the organism to order them in some way that doubt creeps in.  Objects, events, etc., do not attempt to order themselves.  We do that.  And for Dewey, in so doing, we constitute part of the indeterminate situation.  There is no inquiry in the absence of an indeterminate situation, Dewey proclaims.  It appears, however, that Dewey has so defined 'situation' as to make our experience (doubtful or not) a component -- part and parcel -- of the situation; viz.,

. . .isolation of what is perceived from the course of life-behavior would be not only futile, but obstructive. . . .  For we never experience nor form judgments about objects and events in isolation, but only in connection with a contextual whole.  This latter is what is called a 'situation'. (p. 67, Logic)

And again

Inquiry is the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is so determinate in its constituent distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original situation into a unified whole.

He continues: Inquiry and questioning, up to a certain point, are synonymous terms. (Ibid.) Yet again,

The habit of disposing of the doubtful as if it belonged only to us rather than to the existential situation in which we are caught and implicated is an inheritance from subjectivistic psychology. . . .  It is, accordingly, a mistake to suppose that a situation is doubtful only in a 'subjective' sense. (p. 106, Ibid.)  

And in what appears to be a clear refutation of determinism he says,

The notion that in actual existence everything is completely determinate has been rendered questionable by the progress of physical science itself.  Even if it had not been, complete determinism would not hold of existences as an environment.  For Nature is an environment only as it is involved in interaction with our organism, or self, or whatever name be used. (Ibid.)  

Yet, Dewey immediately remarks in a foot-note which seems to carry strong implications of self-contradiction when he says referring to the last sentence of the quotation above,

Except of course a purely mentalistic name, like consciousness.  The alleged problem of "interactionism" versus automatism, parallelism, etc., is a problem (and an insoluble one) because of the assumption, namely, that the interaction in question is with something mental instead of with biological-cultural human beings. (Ibid.)  

Since Dewey (rightly) is a proponent of "organic-environment" interactions, he seems, here, to overlook both that interaction necessarily involves determinism and that an organism cannot, qua organism, ipso facto be excluded from its environment.  This despite the fact that his term 'situation' speaks to this very issue.  There is another perplexing statement.  Dewey implies that "existential conditions" (that is, objects, things, inexperienced events) are indeterminate because they "import" or "portend."  In other words, it is not the organism nor is it the perceiver that imputes significance in the interaction of organism and existential conditions.

Even were existential conditions unqualifiedly determinate in and of themselves, they are indeterminate in significance: that is, in what they import and portend in their interaction with the organism.  The organic responses that enter into the production of the state of affairs that is temporally later and sequential are just as existential as are environing conditions.  (p. 107, Ibid.)

Dewey's use of such terms as 'inquiry' and 'doubt' cannot be understood except through the term 'situation.'  This requires that we see Dewey's "human being," (Dewey to the contrary notwithstanding) for what it really is: a biological-cultural-existential being at one with its environment rather than in "interaction" with its environment.
In general the concept of doubt, except for Dewey's and Peirce's "definitions" and explications referred to above, has not received the investigation it deserves.  It has more or less been taken for granted; and even in Peirce and Dewey as a large carry-over from ordinary language usage.  Preliminary to further discussion, then, is a delineation of some herein unmentioned concepts of doubt.
In ordinary language, 'to doubt' is variously interpreted to mean "to fear," "to waver in opinion," "to hesitate in belief," "to be undecided," "to hold as questionable," "to disbelieve," "to distrust," "to be apprehensive," "to suspect," "to lack certainty," to question," etc.  Dewey is more prone to use the term 'indeterminate situation' in place of 'doubt', though he often uses the latter term as if it were interchangeable with the former.
Descartes, in the forefront of the guiding principle of doubt, was moved to it primarily through a supposed inability to trust his senses.  This is (1) doubt as absence of trust.  From this he was led to four principles of inquiry which constitute a paradigm of what we might call his methodological (or procedural) doubt.

The first was never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgment than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.
The second, to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for its adequate solution.
The third, to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend by little and little, and as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex; assigning in thought a certain order even to those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and sequence.
And the last, in every case to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so general, that I might be assured that nothing was omitted.  (Rene Descartes, p.19, Discourse On Method, Trans., John Veitch, Chicago: The Open court Pub. Co., 1938)  

These, in turn, give direction to (3) premeditated doubt, i.e., doubt premeditated with resolve to doubt.  Doubt, then, even if not "true" or "genuine" doubt, becomes (4) doubt as a matter of principle, i.e., (5) categorical doubt.  We must take note that to doubt as a matter of principle is not to possess an "irritation" of doubt.  Inquiry is often conducted with methodological doubt. Peirce's "feigned doubt" sounds very much like methodological doubt.  He says,

Doubt, however, is not usually hesitancy about what is to be done then and there.  It is anticipated hesitancy about what I shall do hereafter, or a feigned hesitancy about a fictitious state of things.  It is the power of making believe we hesitate, together with the pregnant fact that the decision upon the merely make-believe dilemma goes toward forming a bona fide habit that will be operative in a real emergency.  It is these two things in conjunction that constitute us intellectual beings.  (p. 231, I., ft. note.)

I suggest both that we find Peirce, here, forcing what is not "doubt" into his mould and that there is no "irritation" present.
If we examine the skeptic (whatever the variety, he cannot control his refusal to believe), we find doubt as a personality trait, i.e., (6) psychological doubt, or possibly (7) conceptual doubt founded on the principle of (8) rational doubt, i.e., (9) Cartesian doubt.  There is little point in delineating more.  Many of them would fall (correctly I suggest) under the shadow of Dewey's penumbral term 'pathological'.  (p. 106, Logic)  The easy manner in which Dewey disposes of such "pathological" forms of doubt relegates subsequent pathological inquires to the realm of non-inquiry.
Would anyone deny that certain Nazi experiments (inquires) utilizing the techniques, methods, etc., of the scientific method and search for answers -- were pathological?  Would anyone deny that objective inquires resulting in predictable pain and torture of human subjects are pathological?  Would anyone deny that research and inquires into the development of implements and strategies of war for the destruction and mutilation of large numbers of human beings are pathological?  Where does one draw the line?  But, one may exclaim, "These are pathological inquires -- not doubt."  If we follow Peirce and Dewey, that is not so, for inquiry is necessarily permeated with genuine doubt.  I must insist, however, that any designation of genuine doubt or genuine thinking, to the exclusion of pathological doubt and other forms of doubt, as the necessary characteristic or component of all inquiry both begs the question and is false.
Peirce cited various kinds of doubt, Cartesian, among them, (p. 343,) op. cit. as "real and living doubt."  There is good reason to believe that were such "psychological" states of mind inhabited with "real and living" doubt, they would also have been inhabited with the technical knowledge and know-how of inquiry so that the probability is very high that inquiry would have been motivated; for without the technical knowledge and the methods, inquiry would not have been pursued.
Could Peirce have meant this when he said, "The pragmatist knows that doubt is an art which has to be acquired with difficulty."? (p. 343, para, 498, op. cit.)  But had those states of mind been permeated with an intense curiosity instead, inquiry would have been pursued.  And had those states of mind been instilled with an aesthetic urge, inquiry might have been motivated   It is not doubt alone that moves us to inquiry.  Rather, it is a mixed bag of "psychological" or mental states and conditions of "knowledge," a primary situation of having experienced as Dewey clearly states: ". . .you will not find a case where thinking started up out of nothing. . . .  Reflection is occasioned by the character of this primary situation." (p. 181, RBS )  He says also,

The function of reflective thought is, therefore, to transform a situation in which there is experienced obscurity, doubt, conflict, disturbance of some sort, into a situation that is clear, coherent, settled, harmonious.  (p. 182, RBS)  

And further on, he continues explaining what is wrong with resorting only to a logical approach with the phrase, "the one, which contains the doubt or difficulty." (my italics).  (p.182, RBS)

Apparently, then, unless we are prepared to synonymize obscurity, doubt, conflict, disturbance, and difficulty (I am not), other conditions prevail.  But more to the point, Dewey and Peirce should have emphasized positive components of inquiry: viz, joy, pleasure, anticipation, exhilaration, sense of beauty, thirst for knowledge, love of wisdom, healthy curiosity, the instinct to know, the craving to do, the need for recognition, peer acceptance, education, training, and on and on.  It is not merely "obscurity, doubt, conflict, disturbance" or irritation of doubt which characterize inquiry.
Any form of felt doubt is "genuine," "real, and living doubt."  Some are related to inquiry, some are not.  That some are not is clear evidence that it is not only ". . .irritation of doubt that causes a struggle to attain a state of belief."  (p.231-I op.cit.)  Rather, such irritations of doubt often come into conflict with what some people want to believe.  The result is often "pathological."  A healthy state of mind and a how-to knowledge of what to do with one's doubt are also prime requirements for inquiry.
But even supposing ". . .the irritation of doubt is the only immediate motive for the struggle to attain belief," one rarely sets out to attain "a belief." As Dewey remarks, ". . . I prefer the words 'warranted assertiveness.'"  (p. 67, Logic)  Rather, one sets out to seek a coherence of relations of facts, as well as of propositions relating to those facts, the total of which constitutes what Dewey calls "the product of competent inquires."  (p. 8, Ibid.)
Does not the term 'competent', itself imply important prerequisites (besides doubt) without which the inquiry could hardly be called inquiry in any non-trivial sense.  It is from the results of such inquires that the "product" becomes believable by the compelling force of its constancy, or in Dewey's terms "a determinate situation."
Granting, then, that doubt alone is insufficient for inquiry, and that other "mental" states are necessary, a good case can be made for Inquiry Without Doubt.  History is replete with cases of inquiry in which the irritation of doubt has been lacking.  Instead, the strong motivations have been: insatiable curiosity, initiative, perseverance, resolve, talent, training, superior intellect, compulsive (or instinctive) need to "know" -- to explore the unknown, aesthetic, ethical, or pragmatic drives such as power, riches, fame, and recognition.
At one time philosophy was "the love of wisdom," or in more current expressions, "the pursuit of knowledge" or "the love of knowledge," that is, an intense drive to know.  And, here, we must be careful not to equate ignorance with doubt.  The beauty of "knowing" is a compelling force for inquiry.  Often such inquires have been motivated with exploratory "mental" states, (what Peirce probably would refer to as "feigned doubt"), analogous to "Let's play games," "Let's assume," "what if, . . ."  "Let's see what we'll end up with."  Furthermore, when there are no conflicting beliefs to be in doubt about -- we invent them.  Curiosity has often been the "singular" motivating force in inquiry -- so has the pursuit of beauty, or a need to know in cases where the habits of previous beliefs have not been causes for doubt.  It is the case, Peirce to the contrary notwithstanding, that an interrogative sentence (in the absence of preconceptions relating to the sentence) has motivated inquiry out of which further doubts have been motivated by the inquiry.   But just as I would not insist that inquiry motivates all doubt, I would likewise not insist that doubt is the sole motivation of inquiry, or even a necessary one.
Children, for instance, who are alert and curious, often do not feel (there is reason to believe) an irritation of doubt.  It is the condition of their being alive and alert with an insatiable curiosity that eventually brings beliefs, changes of beliefs, and their instinct to know -- without a state of doubt.  The sense of satisfaction, or even the pleasure each succeeding "new discovery" may instill in them, pushes them on, unaware of what's happening, "seeking" more "knowledge," of their environment.
Lest one take the tack that such phrases as "insatiable curiosity," "instinct to know," "make discovery," necessarily involve doubt, I repeat that doubt should not be identified with ignorance any more than a state of doubt should be conflated with "disturbance," "conflict," "obscurity," etc., in one's mind.  Undoubtedly inquiry is often pursued because there is conflict in one's mind.  We can in such cases accept the presence of doubt.  But often inquiry is pursued with the certainty that one is right, even in the face of conflicting (countervailing) positions.  Often, antagonists are both "totally" confident of the correctness of their antithetical positions.  Each is motivated to inquiry by the certainty and by the resolve to find the means to prove his position.  In such cases, insight has been followed by long and patient substantiating inquiry not characterized by doubt, but, rather, by intuitive "certainty" and the felt need to "prove" that one is right.

© 1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella