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Grazer Philosophische Studien

77 (2008), 23–44.

THE FIXATION OF KNOWLEDGE


AND THE QUESTION-ANSWER PROCESS OF INQUIRY

Claudine TIERCELIN
Institut Universitaire de France
Université Paris XII, Institut Jean Nicod

Summary
The aim of the paper is to present some important insights of C. Hookway’s
pragmatist analysis of knowledge viewed less in the standard (Gettier) way, as
justified true belief, than as a dynamic natural and normative question-answer
process of inquiry, a reliable and successful agent-based enterprise, consisting in
virtuous dispositions explaining how we can be held responsible for our beliefs
and investigations. Despite the merits of such an approach, the paper shows
that it may be inefficient in accounting for some challenges posed by scepticism
or by the nature of epistemic normativity. In which case it might be premature
to propose it as a new conception of knowledge against the standard one and
worth considering a different, though still pragmatist, strategy, in which inquiry
would aim at the fixation of knowledge, still viewed as justified true beliefs, i.e
critical commonsensical, warrantedly assertible, intellectual and sentimental
dispositions for which the epistemic agent, viewed less as an individual person
than as a scientific community of inquirers, should be taken as a knowing and
reliable agent, both answerable and responsible for her assertions.

1. Introduction

C. Hookway’s conception of knowledge retains many pragmatist insights


and develops itself as an original basically virtue-theoretic strategy, viewing
knowledge not so much as a justified true belief enterprise, but rather as
a question-answer process of inquiry in which the regulation of our affec-
tive states is part and parcel of our theoretical deliberation, stating the
right limits to be imposed both on our reasons to doubt and on our justi-
fications for believing, thus setting the rules of our practice of epistemic
evaluation. Despite the merits of Hookway’s approach, one may doubt
its capacity to justify such a change in our standard view of knowledge,
and in particular, to overcome the threat of scepticism, as may be shown
from other pragmatist strategies concerning the nature of assertion, of
inquiry, or the position to adopt towards doubt. This is why it might be
worth suggesting a different, though still pragmatist, strategy in which
the fixation of knowledge would rather be taken as the aim of inquiry,
and knowledge itself defined in terms of basically commonsensical and
critical (justified), warrantedly assertible (true) intellectual and sentimental
dispositions and assertions (beliefs) for which the epistemic agent, viewed
less as an individual reliable person than as a collective agent, or scientific
community of inquirers, should be held both answerable, in so far as her
cognitive abilities are less rule-governed than fixed by the constraints of
the real, and responsible, since, even if she cannot control the whole of her
epistemic evaluations, she should still be able to control and criticize the
methods she is using, and be strongly committed to her assertions, in order
to receive credit for them, and be viewed not only as a virtuous inquirer
but as a knowing and reliable agent.

2. C. Hookway’s conception of knowledge as a question-answer


process of inquiry

From his 1990 book on Scepticism to his latest writings, C. Hookway has
kept underlining that “the focus of our ‘epistemic lives’ is the activity of
inquiry: we attempt to find things out, to extend our knowledge by car-
rying out investigations directed at answering questions, and to refine our
knowledge by considering questions about things we currently hold to be
true” (1994, 211). Without being a “full-blooded virtue epistemologist”,
Hookway stresses that the main concern of epistemology should not be
with improving a Gettier-type definition of knowledge as justified true
belief, but rather “with explaining the evaluations we must be able to make
if we carry out inquiries in a responsible, self-controlled fashion” (1994,
212). For “we don’t understand a concept like justification until we grasp
its role in evaluations employed in ‘ordering’ or regulating inquiries, and
we have no need for a theory of justification until it is required to explain
these evaluations” (ibid.). Indeed, a fundamental problem for epistemology
concerns how it is possible for us to carry out the investigations required for
effective and responsible inquiry, and this is threatened by the possibility
of scepticism, as Hookway noted in his 1990 book on Scepticism, namely

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the possibility of our being unable to take responsibility for whether we
inquire and deliberate well, or for a distinctive kind of autonomous inquiry.
Now sceptical arguments could be resisted only if we could make sense
of a way in which the role of reflection in the control of inquiry could be
limited, since our investigations “depend upon a body of largely acquired
habits, whose internal operations are opaque to us”. Thus, at least in so
far as Hookway might have been taken to defend a position close to some
responsibilist-virtue epistemology, this was based on the claim, as noted in
“How to be a virtue epistemologist?”, “not that we should define ‘justified
belief ’ in terms of the virtues, but, rather, that we shall only understand
how we can regulate deliberations and inquiries, how we can control our
opinions and inquire well, by giving a central role to states such as vir-
tues: indeed, the role of virtues in theoretical deliberation (in identifying
reasons for belief, for example), parallels the role of virtues in practical
deliberation (in identifying reasons for action).” In search for “a better way
of explaining how our deliberations could be so subject to influences we
can think of as alien, perhaps as heteronomous”, Hookway thus came to
“focus on their role in the regulation of inquiry and deliberation and took
it that the primary focus of epistemic evaluation was control of activities
of deliberation and inquiry, rather than the (largely third person) evalu-
ation of states of belief as ‘justified’ or as ‘knowledge’” (ibid.). In other
words, one should pass from the attempt to explain what knowledge and
justified belief are, or to investigate how far we are able to possess states
of knowledge and justified belief, to the following alternative attempt: to
describe and explain our practice of epistemic evaluation; to investigate
how far our epistemic goals are appropriate and how far our evaluative
practice enables us to achieve our epistemic ends.
More and more, and in the line of Dewey who took inquiry and ques-
tioning as being almost synonymous1, Hookway comes to argue that
if epistemic norms are to guide one’s inquiries, then a crucial issue for
all candidate analyses of epistemic evaluation is what makes something
count as a correct answer to a question (1999). It is a sign of epistemic
virtue that one asks the right questions when making a claim, and this
also gives a way to avoid scepticism: for example, when making a claim
about the time of the next train to London, it would be obsessive to feel
1. See Dewey’s account of inquiry in his Logic: inquiry responds to an “indeterminate situ-
ation”. Rational inquiry requires us first to institute a problem, in effect, to identify a question
which focuses the indeterminacy which motivates us to inquiry (1938, 107–8); in Hookway
1999, 14.

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obliged to check that there are no misprints in the printed timetable; but
it would be rash to ignore the possibility that yesterday’s rail strike has
disrupted the schedules” (1994a, 1994b). “If I have no response to a chal-
lenge based upon this second possibility, I should reconsider my claim.
Unless confronted by evidence of widespread inaccuracy in the timetable,
I would be irrational to take the former into account. The possibility that
I might be a brain in a vat grounds a challenge which I ought perhaps to
take account of when engaged in a certain sort of philosophical inquiry,
but I hope that my informants never regard it as relevant when asked for
information about train times. “Context” in that case, determines what
questions (or challenges) I should have answers to before confidently
making a claim to knowledge. So understanding these context relativities
requires us to understand which challenges to our knowledge claims we
should take seriously” (1999, 4). “When we conduct an inquiry, or delib-
erate on some matter, we attempt to formulate questions and to answer
them correctly. We reflect on what we ought to do in order to arrive at a
satisfactory answer. As rational, reflective agents, we monitor our inquiries
asking further questions about how well we are conducting them, about
the acceptability of interim results and so on. The epistemic status of the
conclusions of our inquiry can depend upon how well it has been carried
out. Have the right questions been asked and have they been investigated
in a responsible manner? The obsessive over cautious agent may ask too
many questions, considering challenges which a better cognitive agent
knows can be ignored. A rash irresponsible inquirer is too unreflective,
asking too few questions and unsuspicious of the possibilities of error. My
claim to knowledge expresses confidence that no questions which need
to be raised about my opinion have been left unaddressed, and all those
questions which have been considered have been resolved in a satisfactory
manner.” (1999, 7–8). In other words, “philosophers have paid insufficient
attention to the logic and semantics of questions” (Hookway 1999, 8).
Now, “most assertions are responses to questions” and “rather than seeing
the question as containing (implicitly) a proposition, we might (with more
justice) see the assertion as containing a question … In different contexts,
the same interrogative sentence can be used to ask very different questions
… Talking of my attitudes and responses to questions helps to structure
the information I hold which is normally expressed in terms of beliefs.”
(1999, 10–11).
Besides, ignoring the role of questioning “encourages a very static con-
ception of mind and disguises from us the extent to which thinking is an

26
active process of raising questions and trying different ways of answering
them … We use the concept of knowledge to identify informants. When
I discover that you know something, I can accept your testimony on the
matter…Assertions, when directed at others or to oneself in solitary reflec-
tion, typically purport to express knowledge. We should try to understand
the concept of knowledge by investigating its role in such practices” (1999,
11). Hence, “the general pattern of knowledge”, according to Hookway,
should rather take the following form:

1. X knows Q
2. X’s answer to Q is p
3. So, p.

How does the schema reflect the classical one in terms of “justified true
belief ”? “The three components of the traditional analysis of knowledge
relate to different stages of this schema. The requirement that X believe
that p is a reflection of the requirement that p be X’s answer to Q. The
requirement that the belief be true derives from the demand that 3 should
follow from 1 and 2; and the justification requirement expresses the need
for some property which warrants the assertion of 1—a property that
ensures that whatever answer is offered to our question will be the correct
one (cf. Scepticism, chap. 10). These remarks suggest that we should treat
knowledge as a relation between an individual and a question rather than
between an individual and a proposition. The question determines what
sorts of challenges should be taken into account and what sorts of inquiries
should be conducted” (1999, 11).
From his analysis, Hookway emphasizes the need to focus on a dynamic
rather than static view of knowledge as inquiry, deliberative investigation,
but also on an evaluation of our epistemic practices, and finally on an
agent-based model, in which skills in deliberation and inquiry are viewed
as virtues or character-traits (like attentiveness, fair mindedness, open-
mindedness, intellectual tenacity and courage) engaging the responsibility
of the agent taken in a question-answer situation involving the necessary
account of the assertive context: indeed, our abilities are relative to our
environment and to a lot of background knowledge. Therefore, we should
try to regulate our inquiries in terms of guidance and prescription, and
determine the right type of conduct we should have: this implies knowing
what questions to raise or to avoid, being observant, but also, and impor-
tantly, being aware of the meaninglessness of certain claims to knowledge,

27
or, contra the radical sceptic, of some attempts to find endless justifica-
tions. Furthermore, it involves paying attention to the process of theoretical
deliberation, viewing it in parallel with practical deliberation. All this sup-
poses control but also a lot of uncontrolled, unreflective processes. Indeed,
much of the knowledge and information that guides us in performing our
activities and practices does so without being represented in deliberation.
Therefore, we should take account of a twofold conscious and unconscious
process, namely a conscious reflection—crucial to understanding how it
shapes our habits—though occurring against a background of what seems
to be habits of thought and reflection. Indeed, unless we possess the appro-
priate body of habits, we seem to be incapable of the kinds of reflection
required for effective deliberation (cf. Dewey): in other words, there seems
to be a kind of normal sensitivity to the normative demands of reason.
This explains the importance of such phenomena as salience, appropriate-
ness and relevance, but also of epistemic akrasia (Hookway, 2001): indeed,
unless we have mastered such normative standards in the form of habits
or skills, we will be unable to exercise the deliberative capacities that are
required for effective actions. As another classical pragmatist (Peirce) had
already pointed out, this shows how decisive are such virtues as observance,
open-mindedness, etc. In short, on the one hand, “possession of epistemic
virtue depends upon the possession of skills and habits whose possession
is largely independent of the recognition that some state is, in fact, such a
virtue. And possession of these capacities seems to be what is required for
confidence in one’s deliberative skills, for example in one’s sense of salience,
not to be an impediment to one’s freedom of mind”. On the other hand,
such form of habits of thought, skills in the use of concepts and argument
forms, ways of exercising judgement in weighing considerations are not
available to introspection or consciousness. As a consequence, complex
cognitive achievements can have a sort of phenomenological immediacy
which “mimicks foundationalism” (1993, 2003) and ought to be analyzed
as such. This is why, contrary to a conception of disengaged “inquiry”,
Hookway is more and more inclined to focus on the analysis of such affec-
tive (or metacognitive) states as emotional involvement, anxiety, “feeling
of knowing”, “sentiment of rationality” (W. James), which play such an
essential role in raising genuine (contra paper) doubts, in characterizing
our general cognitive practices, and even in explaining how our epistemic
evaluations are possible at all (2002, 2003, 2008a and 2008b).

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3. The merits of Hookway’s virtue-theoretic and pragmatist approach

Such a pragmatist view of knowledge, modelled on the classical pragma-


tist account as the general process which leads from an unsettling state
of belief-disposition which gave rise to a genuine doubt, to a satisfactory
state of belief (Peirce, Dewey) has many merits: rather than directly focus-
ing on such problematic concepts as “justification”(always threatened by
vicious regress, circularity, dogmatic stopping-point, and often leading to
some form or other of neo-pyrrhonism), “truth”(with all its paraphernalia
of metaphysical obscurities linked with such concepts as correspondence,
coherence, but also strict utility or verification), and “knowledge” (with
all the Plato-Gettier aporia it leads to, whatever the—coherentist, foun-
dationalist, counterfactual, reliabilist, internalist or externalist—proposed
definitions may be), we might well be in a better situation by viewing
knowledge, not as static belief-propositions, but rather as some mental
agents’questioning states, related to inquirers directly engaged in practices
of epistemic evaluation. After all, as the classical pragmatists have claimed,
it might be more economical and less problematic to analyze “truth” in a
metaphysically neutral way, either along “redundantist” lines (F. Ramsey)
or in terms of “the ideal limit of inquiry” (Peirce) or as stating some mini-
mal “warranted assertability” conditions (Dewey), and insist more on the
advantages of a genuine account of the semantics of assertion and of our
various methods of inquiry. Besides, if knowledge is viewed in relation
with our assertive and questioning practices, not only does it throw light
on what counts as epistemic agency, but it affords new interesting links
between epistemology and the philosophy of mind and even with cogni-
tive psychology and metacognition, since it proposes better accounts of
the etiology of our epistemic states, through the study of how a person
formed her beliefs, how sentiments and affective states are linked with our
best rational judgements and not opposed to them (as often underlined
by both W. James and C. S. Peirce), thus providing plausible explanations
of the ways in which some epistemic norms may be related with (or even
may emerge from?) our nature (Tiercelin 1997); again, in showing how,
for example, our investigations still aim at knowledge and truth, or how
deliberation is both theoretical and practical, it provides, as all pragmatists
recommend, a more convincing account of the ways in which knowledge
is tied to action. Finally, in looking at belief-dispositions or habits not
only through Aristotelian lenses, but through Peircian lenses, we get an
interesting explanation of the reasons why, although our belief-habits are

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stable and rigid, they are also radically indeterminate, thus allowing for
changes, evolution and learning through new experiences and unexpected
encounters which often oblige us to “overthrow the whole cartload” of
our previous beliefs (fallibilism, as the pragmatists claim, being part and
parcel of any knowing experience).

4. Some problems with the question-answer or knowledge-as-inquiry


conception

However illuminating such an approach may be, it encounters some obvi-


ous difficulties: after all, one may object, even though knowledge may be
equated with inquiry or with a question-answer process, it does not mean
that this is all there is to knowledge or that justification should no longer
be viewed as an important issue to settle. A quick look at another prag-
matist approach such as Peirce’s, as far as his views on assertion, inquiry
or doubt are concerned, might be helpful here.

1. Let us take assertion first. For Peirce, “any symbol involves an assertion,
at least rudimentary” (CP. 2.34). Enabling one to distinguish between
the volitional content from the representative or propositional content,
the symbol articulates the iconic elements (i.e. the elements which have
some formal resemblance with the object) and the indexical elements
(i.e .those which have some physical resemblance with the object) of the
proposition. Indeed, even if it is upon the symbol that the whole weight
of assertion bears (Brock 1981; Tiercelin, 1993a, 281–305), an assertion
has no meaning except through some designation that shows whether one
refers to the real universe or what universe of fiction it is about (CP.8.368).
Hence the importance of the indexical element of the proposition. More
precisely, an assertion is an act in which the speaker addresses a listener,
formulates a propositional symbol and assumes some responsibility con-
cerning the truth of that symbol. Any assertion implies, on the part of the
speaker, that he believes or knows what he asserts (knowledge is the norm
of assertion) and that he intends to convey the same belief and the same
knowledge to his listener. Thus, it is first of all the speaker who has the
main responsibility: it is his task to eliminate any imprecision that might
be an obstacle to communication. This involves, on the utterer’s part, “a
voluntary self-subjection to penalties” in the event that the proposition
turns out to be false (Ms 517). And Peirce goes so far as to say that such

30
penalties are comparable to the legal penalties associated with making
a false statement under oath (Ms 517; NEM IV, 249). Why is that so?
Because assertion takes place within the context of what Peirce, following
the terminology of the Modists, calls a “Speculative Grammar”, i.e. that
part of Logic which deals with the formal conditions of symbols that have
a meaning (CP 1.559; CP 4.116). Not only has a sign or symbol meaning
within the propositional and assertive context in which it is inserted (CP
4.583; cf. CP 4.56, 551): “Thought must have some possible interpretation
for some possible interpreter”, wherein lies the very being of its being (CP
4.6), in other words, its dialogical character. But, more generally, Specula-
tive Grammar is identified with an Erkenntnistheorie or epistemology which
considers “in what sense and how there can be any true proposition and
false proposition, and what are the general conditions to which thought or
signs of any kind must conform in order to assert anything” (CP 2.206).
Its formal or “quasi-necessary” task being to establish what must be true
of the representamina that are being used by a Scientific Intelligence, in
order for them to embody any meaning whatsoever (CP 2.229) , i.e. an
Intelligence (linked with the community of investigators rather than limited
to an individual) which is incapable of intuition, in accordance with the
conclusions established by the three 1868 articles of The Journal of Specu-
lative Philosophy (W2, 193–272), and which cannot possibly learn except
by following the rules of inductive, abductive and deductive inference, as
applied to experience; an Intelligence too, which has accepted certain aims
and methods, among others the principle on which a discourse is mean-
ingful only if its deliberate aim is to put the process of rational inquiry at
the service of knowledge and truth, which can only be reached through
self-control processes2.
All of this presupposes on both parts that the speakers involved in asser-
tion, have a certain competence and that they partake to a community
of ideals and aims of speech. Both want to communicate, to learn and to
know, that is, to try and suppress all kinds of ambiguity that might creep
into the rational process and break communication (due to the fact, in
particular, that no sign, for Peirce, is either totally determinate, or totally
indeterminate). Indeed, any symbol, or sign is capable of determining
a further symbol which interprets it or translates it, so that it is at least
2. This is why, for Peirce, such a Grammar involves at least, a theory of communication, a
theory of the norms that govern communication, a theory of propositional symbols, a theory
of truth, of meaning, of belief, and of knowledge and a theory of vagueness as applying to all
signs (Brock 1975, 129; 1979; Tiercelin 1993a, 258–334).

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potentially indeterminate.3 At the same time, “Honest people, when not
joking, intend to make the meaning of their words determinate, so that
there shall be no latitude of interpretation at all” (5.447). Thus, it is the
context or the situation of assertion that gives the rules of the right func-
tioning of vagueness and generality. But the situation is far from edenic:
the question is not so much to describe a situation of communication or
of dialogue between speakers that care about one another than to provide
the rules of a game. As R. Hilpinen (1982) has pointed out rightly, such
analyses have much in common with the strategy adopted by Hintikka
in his Game-Theoretical semantics (1979). But why is that so? Because,
what is at stake, is not any kind of communication or some Habermasian
quiet ethics of discussion: it is the communication of truth. Now, for
Peirce, truth goes hand in hand with the adoption of beliefs: therefore, the
speaker must, one way or another, have his belief adopted by his listener.
For the aim of communication is nothing, but an “endeavour to make
the person addressed (i.e. the interpreter) think in a certain way”, that is
believe something.4
No wonder then if the assertion finds its expression in descriptions
which have more in common with conflict than dialogue. The speaker

3. “A sign (under which designation I place every kind of thought, and not alone external
signs), that is in any respect objectively indeterminate (i.e. whose object is undetermined by the
sign itself ) is objectively general in so far as it extends to the interpreter the privilege of carrying
its determination further. Example: ‘Man is mortal’. To the question, ‘What man?’ the reply
is that the proposition explicitly leaves it to you its assertion to what man or men you will (cf.
2.357). A sign that is objectively indeterminate in any respect is objectively vague in so far as it
reserves further determination to be made in some other conceivable sign, or at least does not
appoint the interpreter as its deputy in this office. Example: ‘A man whom I could mention
seems a little conceited.’ The suggestion here is that the man in view is the person addressed;
but the utterer does not authorize such an interpretation or any other application of what she
says. She can still say, if she likes, that she does not mean the person addressed. Every utterance
naturally leaves the right of further exposition in the utterer; and therefore, in so far as a sign
is indeterminate, it is vague, unless it is expressly or by a well-understood convention rendered
general” (5.447). A sign is objectively general, in so far as, leaving its effective interpretation
indeterminate, it surrenders to the interpreter the right of completing the determination for
himself. ‘Man is mortal’. ‘What man?’, ‘Any man you like’. A sign is objectively vague in so far
as, leaving its interpretation more or less indeterminate, it reserves for some other possible sign
or experience the function of completing the determination. ‘This month’, says the almanach-
oracle, ‘a great event is to happen’. ‘What event?’ ‘Oh, we shall see. The almanach does not say
that.’” (5.505).
4. Ms 284: “The assertion consists in furnishing of evidence by the speaker to the listener
that the speaker believes something, that is, finds a certain idea to be definitively compulsory
on a certain occasion” (Ms 787; see CP 2.335).

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who asserts a proposition accepts to be held responsible for it, and subjects
himself to possible penalties, in case the proposition turns out to be false.5
The speaker is a defender of his own position; as for the listener, it is his
interest to try and detect a possible falsehood committed by the speaker,
since “the affirmation of a proposition may determine a judgement to the
same effect in the mind of the interpreter to his cost” (Ms 517; NEM IV,
249). Hence the utterer and the interpreter have opposite interests and
attitudes with regard to the truth of any proposition asserted by the for-
mer (Hilpinen 1982, 185), so difficult is it to give up one’s beliefs.6 This
is why the interpreter of a proposition is at times called its “opponent”
(e.g. in Ms 515)7.
Indeed, although all communication implies the mutual respect of a
number of tacit assumptions, some agreement on the aim of communica-
tion on both parts, no “latitude of interpretation” (CP 5.447), the necessar-
ily asymmetrical situation which prevails between both speakers does not
make the elimination of indetermination in all cases desirable. The speaker
may have some interest in remaining in a certain fuzziness (CP 5.505n1; cf.
CP 3.94). However, if the speaker wants to convince or to communicate an
information, it is up to him to qualify (though not eliminate) it, either by
using indexical signs indefinite enough so that “the sign is not sufficiently
expressing itself to allow of an indubitable determinate interpretation”
(CP 5.448n1) or by accepting to extend “to the interpreter the privilege
of carrying its determination further” (CP 5.447), thus turning a previ-
ously vague assertion into a general one, as when the utterer leaves it to the
interpreter to complete the determination of the implications of such an
assertion as: “This being filthy, in every sense of that term”, thus counting
on the “collateral” (CP 8.178–9) or background information linked to
the system of conventions (such as determinate indexes (proper names)
or indefinite ones (such as common nouns) to facilitate interpretation and
to determine who, the utterer or the interpreter will be in a position of
defense or attack (Ms 283; cf. Hintikka’s interpretation of quantifiers in
5. “To assert a proposition means to accept responsibility for it, so that if it turns out ill, or
as Mr. Schiller says (by implication) unsatisfactory, in a certain way which we need not define,
but which is called proving to be false, he who asserted it regrets having done so” (Ms 280).
6. “The utterer is essentially a defender of his own position and wishes to interpret it so
that it will be defensible. The interpreter, not being so interested, and being unable to interpret
it fully without considering to what extreme it may reach, is relatively in a hostile attitude, and
looks for the interpretation least defensible” (Ms 9, 3-4).
7. Thus, the language-game occurring between the speaker and the interpreter with respect to
an indeterminate proposition is very close to what Hintikka calls a zero-sum game (1979, 51).

33
game-theoretical semantics 1979, 51)). But the context of the assertion
(in other words its pragmatic dimension) is the third means invoked by
Peirce—since “no general description can identify an object”—to explain
how an object of experience can be identified, besides its being singularized:
“The common sense of the interpreter of the sign will assure him that the
object must be one of a limited collection of objects”.8 Thus the puzzle
is solved in a way, closer to “rank pragmatism” than to a straightforward
“commonsensism”, much in keeping with the famous Peircian maxim:
“Consider what effects that might conceivably have practical bearings,
we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then our conception
of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object”. But again,
if assertion is tied to such pragmatist constraints, it is because it operates
within an epistemic context in which what is at stake, aimed at, in the
question-answer process, is not any kind of communication, but the com-
munication of knowledge and truth.

2. What about inquiry? How should it be depicted? Indeed, as rightly


insisted on by C. Hookway, as a responsibilist investigation, in which
some epistemic traits of virtuous character such as honesty, economy,
confidence, and such affective states as emotions, sentiments, feelings of
knowing have to be instanced in order, not only to determine whether we
are engaged in a genuine process or a mere “paper” doubt or fake enterprise,
but to explain how we can be viewed as reliable and responsible agents:

8. “Suppose, for example, two Englishmen to meet in a continental railway carriage. The
total number of subjects of which there is any appreciable probability that one will speak to the
other perhaps does not exceed a million, and each will have perhaps half that million not far
below the surface of consciousness, so that each unit is ready to suggest itself. If one mentions
Charles the Second, the other need not consider what Charles the Second is meant. It is no
doubt the English Charles the Second. Charles the Second was a quite different man on differ-
ent days; and it might be said that without further specification the subject is not identified.
But the two Englishmen have no purpose of splitting hairs in their talk; and the latitude of
interpretation which constitutes the indeterminacy of a sign must be understood as a latitude
which might affect the achievement of a purpose. For two signs whose meanings are for all pos-
sible purposes equivalent are absolutely equivalent. This is, to be sure, rank pragmaticism; for
a purpose is an affection of action” (CP 5.448n1). “Suppose the chat of our Englishmen had
fallen upon the colour of Charles II’s hair. Now that colours are seen quite differently by differ-
ent retinas is known. That the chromatic sense is much more varied than it is positively known
to be is quite likely. It is very unlikely that either of the travellers is trained to observe colours
or is a master of their nomenclature. But if one says that Charles II had dark auburn hair, the
other will understand him quite precisely enough for all their possible purposes, and it will be
a determinate predication” (ibid.).

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however, these are not the only requirements to be met by an inquirer: as
far as doubt is concerned, Peirce claims that the only way to justify our
reasons for doubting does not so much pertain to feelings, emotions or
affectives states (which belong to what he calls in his categorial jargon,
“Firstness”) as to reactions, existential shocks (“Secondness”) encountered
when we meet some “recalcitrant” experience, which forces us to revise our
previous beliefs. Again, the only way to make sure that our beliefs are not
mere prejudices or are not fixed in the wrong way—because, for example,
we would be using such spurious methods as the a priori (or psycholo-
gistic, subjectivist) method, or the method of “tenacity” or the method
of “authority” (see “The Fixation of Belief ”, or “How to make our ideas
clear” 1878–79)—is to rely on the “scientific method”, the justification of
which is provided by the fact that there are “real things” which are stable,
external enough (though not totally independent of our thinking about
them) to constrain and “fix” our beliefs in the appropriate way. In other
words, inquiry is part and parcel of a strong realistic commitment and of
an allegiance not to mere conversational “maxims” or to some set of “ques-
tions” and “answers”, but to the strict rules of the scientific method itself
with all its inferential requirements in terms of deduction, induction and
abduction, and its methodological procedures (as prescribed, in particular,
by the “economy of research”). So inquiry implies more than deliberation
and discussion: it implies a strong commitment to norms and it is liable to
penalties. Indeed, for Peirce, some “ethics of inquiry” is needed. But this
should not dispense us either with some “ethics of belief ”, as can be shown
from Peirce’s severe condemnation of James’s position in the Clifford-James
debate (Haack 1997; Tiercelin 2005a, 196ff.) and his siding rather with
an attenuated Cliffordian (or basically evidentialist) position.

3. What about doubt? One of the challenges any account of knowledge


has to face is the threat of scepticism. How does Hookway’s account bear
upon scepticism? Or does it even face the issue?9 As he notes himself, “it
would be nice to defuse scepticism by arguing that when we leave the

9. This is an objection addressed to Hookway by Marie McGinn in her reply to Hookway


2003 (2003, 99–100): “But [a consequence of Hookway’s view] means that I can take my current
emotional evaluations as a proper ground for rejecting the sceptic’s questions only by assuming
the very thing that the sceptical voice in me doubts—that is, by arguing in a circle”. “Moreover,
given that Hookway’s account of our ordinary practice acknowledges that the relation between
the emotional evaluations on which it rests and objective truth is contingent, it is hard to see
how the work of resisting skepticism in a philosophical context is to be achieved” (99).

35
backgammon table and raise global questions about whether we know
anything at all, our interrogative sentences cease to express genuine ques-
tions. I am doubtful that such an argument can be made to work—and if
it can it is likely that we should conclude only that our sceptical anxieties
should not be expressed using the concept of knowledge. Deeper worries
about our ability to carry out inquiries responsibly or to formulate questions
effectively might remain (italics mine). More promising is the suggestion
that since an interrogative sentence will be used to articulate different
questions (or formulate different problems) in different contexts, there is
no direct route (italics mine) from the impropriety of claiming knowledge
of some fact in a distinctively philosophical context to the impropriety of
doing so in an everyday context” (1999, 16). However is this enough to
constitute an efficient “parry” to scepticism under its most serious forms
(in particular the Cartesian sceptical scenario), at least if we are not totally
convinced by any contextualist suggested solution to it? Here it might be
worth comparing two types of strategies that have been provided by Witt-
genstein and Peirce, along what sounds undoubtedly like a “pragmatist”
line of thought, close, in many ways, to the one suggested by Hookway
himself. Briefly, all have a lot in common in terms of the diagnosis and the
reaction they deem necessary to the Cartesian sceptical scenario (or radical
doubt): a doubt must have practical effects otherwise it is vain and vacuous;
radical doubt is not so much unpractical or unreasonable as intrinsically
incomprehensible: it is contrary to the logic of judgement, which needs to
be put in context; a mere logical possibility of doubt does not constitute a
real one. Doubt presupposes a system of beliefs and previous certainties:
“If I want the door to turn, the hinges must stay put” (OC, 343). The
Cartesian scenario, Wittgenstein claims, is based on a confusion between
what is empirical and grammatical. Therefore, a Moorean type of answer,
relying on Commonsense is not the right one. There are many problems
with the use of the word “know”. Indeed, Moore’s “propositions” are
neither true nor false: they are just accepted. This is also why it is useless
to ask to justify them. Justification must end somewhere. So not only is
the Cartesian sceptical challenge meaningless but so is Agrippa’s sceptical
challenge (the infinite regress sceptical scenario). However, as has been often
noted, a large part of Wittgenstein’s answer relies on ambiguities related to
the epistemic status of the “hinge” propositions: are they logical, analytical
truths, rules, principles, practical norms, norms “in context”, “standing” or
“unearned” certainties (Wright 2004)? It is not easy to tell. Quite different
is Peirce’s offensive strategy: first, he has his own (and naturalistic rather

36
than “grammatical”) reasons against radical doubt: as we noted previ-
ously, for him, doubt must have an external cause in order to be real. This
leads him to insist more indeed on the links with the doubt-belief (habit)
structure (or struggle) of inquiry (rather than of knowledge proper). What
is important is to fix belief, the “settlement of opinion”: “A true doubt is a
doubt which really interferes with the smooth working of the belief-habit”
(CP 5.510). Secondly, whereas Wittgenstein’s reply consists in underlin-
ing the groundlessness of beliefs—and stressing their “mobile” epistemic
status (hinge-propositions)—Peirce has a two-levels answer: 1. He adopts
a form of Critical Common Sensism (inspired by both Reid and Kant,
and mixes “indubitable” beliefs with a somewhat extreme fallibilism. 2.
He follows a strategy consisting, as noted earlier, in sorting out, among
several methods for fixing belief, the method which is the only one able
to fix belief (i.e to calm the uneasiness created by doubt): the Scientific
Method based on the hypothesis of Reality (both fixed by experience and
by the community of investigators).This explains why, in the end, we have
two rather different “parries” to the sceptical challenge. Both pragmatists,
generally speaking, reject the Cartesian sceptical scenario: a doubt (as
Hookway also emphasizes) must be contextualized. All seem to accept the
view that “at the foundation of well-founded belief lies belief that is not
founded” (OC, 253). In other words, some beliefs do not pertain to the
vocabulary of foundation, justification, knowledge. Hinge propositions
are not strictly speaking known, since they are outside epistemic evalua-
tion. From which it seems easy to conclude that one can admit the infinite
regress argument without scepticism following therefrom. Indeed, for a
doubt to be possible, does not mean for it to be necessary. Even when we
could doubt, we simply do not (cf. OC, 509): “The difficulty is to realize
the groundlessness of our believing” (OC, 166). This is why their reply
to the sceptic is at times paradoxical, since it induces a form of scepticism
towards justification, very much in the spirit of neo-pyrrhonism which
refuses to accept the philosophical perspective adopted by both dog-
matic sceptics and their opponents (Fogelin 1994, 99). In the same way,
Peirce’s extreme fallibilism at times only separates him from scepticism
by a hair’s breadth (as often noted by Hookway himself ). However, while
specific difficulties are posed by the epistemic status of Wittgenstein’s hinge
propositions (especially if meant as rules defining a practice), in terms of
any empirical inquiry which is traditionally conceived as aiming at truth,
Peirce’s “parry” seems more “efficient”, in so far as, for him, any belief
may be criticized, at least if there are positive reasons for that. A Common

37
Sensical answer? Hardly, since Commonsensism remains irreducibly critical
and normative.
Finally, one may wonder whether Hookway’s approach, focusing, as it
does, on the description of our evaluative practices, is sufficient, not only
to defuse scepticism, but to get the right type of epistemic normativity we
are looking for.10

5. Conclusions and suggestions from a standard and pragmatist approach

Hookway is surely right to stress the importance of viewing knowledge as


a question-answer process of inquiry. However, he may not have provided
strong enough arguments in favor of a total revision of our concept of
knowledge or, by the same token, of the primary task of epistemology itself.
It may well be that the “standard” account has to be modified, in view of
the various aporia it faces. But one might also suggest a different “pragma-
tist” strategy, which would start from the traditional (though modified and
improved)11 definition of knowledge, rather than from a virtue theoretic
approach, question-answer, or knowledge as inquiry approach and would
add two important “pragmatist” principles: 1) The refusal of the principle

10. See M. McGinn’s criticism in 2003.


11. In Tiercelin 2005a, 267 ff., I have given a detailed analysis of what might be such “con-
straints” on knowledge (rather than necessary and sufficient conditions) and suggested a defini-
tion along the following lines. Briefly: (K) S knows that P iff: a) S believes that P (belief being
less an internal mental state than a disposition to action)(as noted by A. Bain, Peirce or Ramsey);
b) P is true (truth being itself conceived either on the mode of warranted assertibility (Dewey),
at the ideal limit of inquiry (Peirce), or in a merely redundantist fashion (Ramsey): truth is suc-
cess; it is in itself metaphysically neutral; what really matters is what goes together with it: our
assertions, our investigations); c) S is (most often: because of the ever present risk of fallibilism)
justified in believing that P, namely, essentially, that: 1. S would believe that P iff P were true
(obeying E. Sosa’s principle of safety; along Reidian, Peircian, neo-Moorean principles of com-
monsense). 2. If P were not true in relevant circumstances, S would not believe P (principle of
“sensitivity”); in case our until now best established beliefs encountered the shock of recalcitrant
experience, then we should be ready to “overthrow our whole cartload of beliefs“ (Peirce’s critical
commensism). 3. If, in other relevant circumstances, P were still true, S would still believe that
P (“counterfactual” conditions formulated by Nozick—translatable into the lessons to be drawn
from the pragmatist maxim, along a subjunctive conditional reading: in order to get the mean-
ing of the hardness of the diamond, one can always translate it into a set of conditionals: “If the
diamond was pressed upon, it would not break” (reality of the “would-be” or disposition)). 4.
S is justified in believing that P by a proper reliable causal process (Goldman): hence, irrelevant
counterfactual situations are excluded, the reliability of the process being itself a matter of trust
on our part in our cognitive (intellective and active) faculties (Reid, Peirce, Sosa, Greco).

38
of radical generality, which goes hand in hand with the sceptical argument:
as a consequence, an analysis is required of the conditions of possibility of
doubt itself, and not only of knowledge: “Doubt itself needs to be justified”
(Reid, Peirce and Wittgenstein); we should always find a way to distinguish
between paper (or chamber) doubt and genuine reasons for doubt; rely
either on certain rules or norms (hinge propositions in Wittgenstein’s style)
or on principles (closer to Common Sense), but constantly submit such
principles—which, incidentally, are not fixed (Reid) but evolutive: “We
outgrow the applicability of instinct” (Peirce)—to our criticism and con-
trol; and show that the sceptical objections are most often strong because
they refuse any kind of contextualization. However, invoking contextualism
does not amount to holding that the epistemic status of a proposition may
vary according to purely conversational, cultural, social (or other) factors:
it is to hold that, independently of such influences, a proposition has no
epistemic status whatsoever. Thus formulated, contextualism implies a form
of externalism, for even if proper contextual constraints have to be satisfied
in order for such and such a proposition to be able to count as knowledge,
such constraints need not be actually claimed, known, nor even believed,
even if some minimal sensitivity to such constraints (because of their
causal impact) is unavoidable (as stressed by Williamson 2000). In that
respect, a pragmatist refuses the irrelevant choice—due to an (according
to him) erroneous split between the internal and the external—between
internalism and externalim. In particular, not accepting the principle of
priviledged access to our mental states (access-internalism), through some
form of conscious awareness, intuition, introspection, does not imply that
we cannot (in fact we must) exercise some self-control and criticism on our
beliefs. The question remains open as to the nature of such a control: is
it something irreducibly normative and reflexive, or is such a normativity
already present in terms of some metacognitive capacities at the level of
nature itself? In which case, we would not have to distinguish a “reflexive”
level from an “animal” level (Sosa) in order to have a “perspective” on our
beliefs, but we should merely view epistemic normativity as being in con-
tinuity with (emerging from) nature (Peirce’s solution). But then we would
have to view our belief-dispositions not only as stable habits but as involving
the necessary “habit-changes”—Peirce; cf. Aristotle’s distinction between
“hexis” (stable habit) and “diathesis” (moving disposition)—entailed by the
education of our “feelings of knowing” or “sentiment of rationality” (James,
Peirce) in order for our dispositions to become virtues, hence to play their
expected role in our practices of epistemic evaluations and ethical valuings

39
(Dewey’s distinction, which we have to make if we want to keep the insight
that there is more value in knowledge than in justified true beliefs). In the
same manner, not to accept the principle of an independent reality, totally
external to our beliefs (see the criticism of metaphysical realism present both
in Peirce and in Putnam), does not imply that it is not possible (indeed,
it is necessary, if we want to explain the cooperation of the (truth-maker)
world with our beliefs), either to maintain the causal strength of reality
upon our beliefs (Peirce’s Secondness and semiotic abductive realism applied
to the analysis of perception and opposed to a Reidian direct realistic or
a Putnamian natural realistic approach); or to develop a form of realism
enabling one to explain how, on the one hand, the real does constrain our
beliefs, and on the other hand, is to be viewed as the final opinion agreed
upon by the scientific community, hence justifies our scientific method of
fixing our beliefs in a warranted way (at the roots of Peirce’s scholastic and
even Scotistic realism).
2) The principle of fallibilism is the second pragmatists principle that
should be added to such constraints: it is closely allied with the presump-
tion of the possibility of knowledge but also with a necessarily un-dogmatic
definition of knowledge and an epistemic (and even ontological) radical
indeterminism. But it is a fallibilism which may itself happen to be ques-
tioned and is constantly submitted to the rules of scientific method and
to the constraints of inquiry. But note that it is precisely such a fallibilism
(which is consubstantial to pragmatism) which constitutes the ever present
risk of the sceptical drift (several times, indeed, the pragmatists come very
close to scepticism, in a neo-Pyrrhonian or dogmatic way). Contrary to
Hookway’s suggestion (2008b) that “fallibilism” is not really “disturbing”
for Peirce, since it has the status of a mere “abstract” possibility, such an
alliance of “fallibilism and anti-scepticism” might well constitute “the”
insight of American pragmatism (Putnam), but also a genuine and con-
stant threat to knowledge. This is why it seems advisable to bet on some
form of weak foundationalism which might be looked for, along such lines
as those proposed by Tyler Burge’s concept of “perceptual entitlement”:
our perceptions may not provide us warrants nor justifications, however
they entitle us or give us prima facie justifications to believe what we do
believe, as Peirce tries to make clear in his analysis of perception through
abduction12.

12. See Tiercelin 2005b, for a detailed account of Peirce’s views on abduction and percep-
tion.

40
Although remaining within a basically standard model, such a pragma-
tist strategy about knowledge would impose the revision of some of our
former views. Involving a naturalistic though not “naturalized” approach,
it would tend to bring epistemology 1. closer to ethics: stress the need to
interpret normative facts (without totally indulging into virtue epistemol-
ogy); account for normativity, in terms of an emergence of norms (viewed
as both stable and evolutionary dispositions (habits and habit-changes)
from nature, akin to Kant’s model of a system of preformation of pure
reason); 2. back to the philosophy of mind and cognitive psychology:
account for such mental states as both belief-dispositions and affective
states as being constitutive of mental and epistemic agency; 3. closer to
the philosophy of science: insist on experience and experimentation within
the context of an inquiry ruled by the scientific method; 4. closer to the
philosophy of language: the inquiry part of knowledge stresses how our
assertions aim at knowledge (which works as their norm) within a prag-
matist though limited contextualism; 5. closer to metaphysics, through
the need for a better understanding of the nature of dispositions (are they
mental, physical, basic, supervenient on categorical properties, merely
functional), and of the real, if perceptual entitlement may be viewed as
a prima facie justification, constraining our beliefs, “mimicking founda-
tionalism”, how does perception hook into the world? In what way does
it inform us about the ontological furniture of the states of affairs? In so
doing, the new strategy would provide a decidedly anti-pyrrhonian model
of agency and a guide to action, in accordance with the strong rejection of
ethical neutrality of abstention condemned by James. This morning, when
we woke up, we stopped dreaming (at least, we are entitled to believe so).
The sun, like yesterday, had arisen, the earth was under our feet. This is
not infallibly certain, but it remains highly probable, until proven wrong.
At any rate, it would be meaningless to ask us to justify it or to pretend that
we are in no way entitled to think it. Because we aim at truth, because we
value knowledge more than mere justified and true belief, because we view
ourselves as answerable and responsible (epistemic and mental) agents who
are constrained by the real and commit themselves to their assertions, we
presume (not only as a regulative but as a living hope) that knowledge is
possible, and this is indeed sufficient to dispose us to act.

41
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