A Universal Perspective on Belief

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A Universal Perspective on Belief

(*note to reader:I hope this gives all of you struggling with some concepts in Intro to Philosophy a clearer view on how to approach your own paper, please do not plagerise)

The approaches given by Pierce and Nagel to the epistemological questions of doubt and belief, though diverse in that they are strictly pragmatist and Cartesian, contain a similar underlying principle. They both serve to show that belief cannot come from any source that appeals to one’s feelings or purposes, experiences or impressions. Beliefs must arise from a non-personal means. Although this is a commonality between the two approaches in epistemology, they are greatly different arguments in their focuses. Pierce’s pragmatist approach surfaces along the lines of techniques people use to found their beliefs of reality, here assuming reality from the start, and using that as a foundation to delve into questions of the unknown. Nagel’s look at the Cartesian approach primarily doubts reality, and uses that as the grounds for the rest of his argument, asking how we can know anything beyond ourselves. These approaches lead to very different views on epistemology.

Pragmatism: Pierce’s Approach to Epistemology

Pierce’s approach to his “epistemological questions” of doubt and belief is solely pragmatic in nature, in that he states beliefs are established in habits, which reoccur in our determining of our actions; doubt, on the other hand, is an uneasy state we want to release ourselves from, to come to a belief (46). We then gather from this, that doubt and belief have “positive effects” on us, both causing us to act. Pierce begins his approach with a discussion of the “irritation of doubt”(46). This he d...

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...eviews the Cartesian approach to epistemology, showing us the unreliability in assuming a reality apart from ourselves. How we can come to any sort of belief on anything is questioned in both works, yet in taking completely different approaches, they delve into the complete realm of knowledge. The cohesion between the two approaches is purely that they refute a personal or exclusive method in determining one’s beliefs. Beliefs must be universal, transcendent of the individual.



Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Charles Sanders Peirce, “The Fixation of Belief”; Popular Science Monthly 12 (November 1877), 46-53.

John Cottingham, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Descartes. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
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