Shawn Taylor *
IN "The Aims and Tasks of General Semantics: Implications of the Time-Binding Theory," S. I. Hayakawa (1906-1992) distinguishes between three orientations --prescientific, antiscientific, and scientific -- and what implication each orientation holds for the prospect of human agreement (1951 & 2001). Similar themes that Hayakawa's article addresses can be found in an essay written more than six decades earlier by the nineteenth-century American logician and mathematician, Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914). Peirce (pronounced "purse") is widely considered to be one of the most original thinkers in the history of philosophy and the greatest philosopher the United States has ever produced (Brent 1993, p.xiv; Popper 1972, p.212). Among his many and varied accomplishments, he is best known for writing the founding documents of American pragmatism, "a method," Peirce tells us, "of ascertaining the meaning of hard words and abstract conceptions" (CP, vol.5, par.464) (1).
Peirce sought to understand the meaning of words and concepts according to their practical significance. Hayakawa sought to explore the relationship between words, human thought, and practical action. Peirce's original work in semiotics is by far the most thoroughgoing and sustained early attempt to give an account of signs and their interrelations. When assessing the truth or falsehood of an idea, Peirce held that what matters most is the consequences that follow from the idea, as distinguished from the idea itself. Peirce, like Hayakawa, believed that of all the methods available for analyzing various kinds of claims, assertions, beliefs, and ideas, only one method has a distinct advantage over all others in addressing humankind's common problems, and that is the method of science.
Peirce's Four Methods of Fixing Belief
In his now famous 1887 article, "The Fixation of Belief," Peirce examines four ways that people form beliefs. For Peirce, "fixation" means quite literally the prevalent tendency of people to "fix on" to certain opinions or beliefs. Similarly, Peirce employs the word "belief" as "that which a man is …