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April 16, 2016

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This reminds me of a passage from Peirce's "The Fixation of Belief": "Hence, the sole object of inquiry is the settlement of opinion. We may fancy that this is not enough for us, and that we seek, not merely an opinion, but a true opinion. But put this fancy to the test, and it proves groundless; for as soon as a firm belief is reached we are entirely satisfied, whether the belief be true or false. And it is clear that nothing out of the sphere of our knowledge can be our object, for nothing which does not affect the mind can be the motive for mental effort."

Peirce's line here has always struck me as getting more right than the people he's arguing against, but not without erring in its own fashion. Peirce is right that truth is not *the* aim of inquiry, as inquiry is always motivated by a need to settle opinion in some particular practical area -- and settling on an opinion is settling on its truth, so any added question we might ask about the truth of an opinion we're settling on would be idle. But there's no reason to deny that in inquiry we seek true opinions: those are what we think we have when we settle on opinions, and we can't become open to the thought that we've settled on an untrue opinion without ipso facto unsettling that opinion. Inquiry, when it goes well, settles opinions by our coming to hold true opinions: this is the line I think Peirce should've gone with. That we can't split inquiry into two steps, settling on an opinion and looking into the truth of that opinion, doesn't mean that inquiry is really just one step, where opinions are settled on without caring about their truth.

Analogously, I don't see that the line you're taking actually shows that there aren't determinate thoughts (or desires) prior to deliberation. I might not *ask* "But is this the thought I previously had?" or "But is this the desire I really have?" after ending a process of deliberation. But this might just be because I think I have settled those questions in my ordinary process of deliberation -- and I might, later on, come to think I *didn't* actually settle those questions, and so come to think something went a bit off with my earlier deliberating.

For example, in the seminar case: I *have* become satisfied with an objection I constructed after class as being what I had in mind earlier, and then came to think instead that what I was trying to say in class was worse than what I came to say after class -- because I become alerted to a confusion in the expressions I tried to make use of in class, which confusion would be simply unintelligible if I had been trying to give voice to my later, better, objection. This normally doesn't happen when I try to find my words after class, but it doesn't never happen.

Oh, it doesn't *show* that there aren't determinate thoughts prior to deliberation. But I think it does show that people are less committed to there being determinate thoughts prior to deliberation than it seems at first blush.

I don't see how the process of deliberation about the general subject matter I take my earlier thought to have been concerned with could adequately settle the question regarding what that thought was. These seem to be just totally different questions, to me, once you grant that there was a determinate thought prior to deliberation.

What, for instance, is "off" with your previous deliberation if you later come to think you didn't settle the question "is this the thought I previously had?"? Is it that you now think you have a better thought? Or that you now think that your deliberation was still in the grips of a confusion? Those might indicate that your deliberation about the seminar topic was still imperfect. But they seem to have nothing to do with the question whether or not you had settled the question about your earlier thought, and your opinion that you hadn't actually settled that question doesn't indicate that your deliberation was faulty in any of those ways.

"Oh, it doesn't *show* that there aren't determinate thoughts prior to deliberation. But I think it does show that people are less committed to there being determinate thoughts prior to deliberation than it seems at first blush."

Okay, that's fair enough; I think it can do that much work. I wouldn't want to defend the claim that there always are determinate thoughts prior to deliberation, anyway. But they seem to me to be real some of the time.

"I don't see how the process of deliberation about the general subject matter I take my earlier thought to have been concerned with could adequately settle the question regarding what that thought was. These seem to be just totally different questions, to me, once you grant that there was a determinate thought prior to deliberation."

Well, it's me thinking the thoughts in both cases, and I don't change so much between the middle of a seminar and its end. So if I think about what I was thinking about when I had the thought I've since forgotten, I can use that as a guide to figure out what I might have thought earlier. I also don't generally need to figure out what my earlier thought was while having no clue what it might have been; I have a hazy notion of what it was, and just need to clear up the haze in my memory. But that can happen indirectly, even if I'm not trying to answer the question of what it was I earlier thought at all.

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