Charles S. Peirce's Universal Fallibilism
Elizabeth Frances Maurya Cooke
Advisor: Richard J. Blackwell
Source: DAI, 61, no. 05A (2000): p. 1873
Standard No: ISBN: 0-599-78630-2
Fallibilism is the thesis that all human knowledge lies between the extremes of skepticism and dogmatism. Fallibilism is a qualification put on truth claims. Any claim to truth takes the form, "I believe that "x" but I could be wrong about "x."" Scientific claims are considered fallible because the same method that produces scientific beliefs can also produce falsifying evidence against them in the future. Peirce's fallibilism is more controversial, however, because it is universal, extending to all truth claims. All knowledge claims, including metaphysical, methodological, introspective, and even mathematical claims, remain uncertain and provisional.
Our approach involves an examination of Peirce's arguments for fallibilism, the overall scope of his fallibilism, and his conception of scientific progress. We consider whether Peirce's or any universal fallibilism can be maintained consistently. We argue that a universal fallibilism can be maintained, but only if the view of knowledge is reconceived as evolutionary. Such a view of knowledge is to be found in Peirce's theory of the evolutionary continuum of time, or what Peirce calls “synechism”. According to this theory, everything in nature, including human knowledge, evolves. This view embraces ontological and epistemological indeterminacy, the openness of the future, and the dynamic nature of the present. Order is increasing in the universe, while indeterminacy is decreasing. A consequence of synechism is that knowledge claims must always be said to contain an element of indeterminacy and uncertainty. Knowledge must always remain provisional and fallible. But with the passage of time, our methods and concepts will continue to evolve, becoming more orderly and reliable, and the indeterminacy of knowledge will decrease proportionately. Fallibilism, thus conceived, applies universally to all fields of knowledge, but its force on our truth claims fades into the future as the structure of knowledge evolves.
Accession No: AAI9973329