“Colorblindness and Paper Doubt:  A Socio-political Application of Critical Common-sensism”

 

Abstract (150 wds):   This paper applies Peirce’s doctrine of Critical Common-sensism to the socio-political problem of colorblindness in the United States.  I argue that colorblindness discourse is an enactment of paper doubt, by which racist common-sense beliefs are supposedly eradicated, but continue to function without the awareness of many well-intentioned white people.  This occurs since racist beliefs are really belief-habits whose embodied roots need to be addressed, through experience, for belief-habit change to be successful.  I offer a Peircean remedy to this problem, which challenges the common dismissal (“playing the race card”) of people of color’s testimony regarding the prevalence of racism.  People of color experience patterns of racism-based secondness – or environmental resistance – that white people do not commonly experience.  Thus their testimony must be embraced as a unique experiential perspective, which is indispensable for the community – in this case U.S. society – to successfully eliminate racist belief-habits at both individual and societal levels.

 

Traditional Paper  (3488 wds):

            In this paper, I apply Peirce’s doctrine of Critical Common-sensism to the socio-political issue of colorblindness.  The epistemological outlook of Critical Common-sensism, especially Peirce’s discussion of paper doubt, provides tools for understanding a problem in contemporary United States’ discussions about race.  On the one hand, “colorblindness” is a dominant theme in the mainstream discourse.  Well-intentioned white people often proclaim that race does not matter to them and that racism is no longer a pressing issue in U.S. society.  The assumption here is that if one or one’s society is colorblind, then racist behavior cannot be prevalent.[1]  On the other hand, racism abounds in the United States, as attested to by many people of color.  This conflict is further complicated by the fact that testimony from people of color regarding racism is often dismissed, in the mainstream discourse, as “playing the race card.”[2]

            Part One gives a Critical Common-sensist diagnosis of this problem.  I argue that colorblindness discourse is an enactment of paper doubt, by which racist common-sense beliefs are supposedly eradicated, but continue to function without the awareness of white people.  This occurs since racist beliefs are really belief-habits whose embodied roots need to be addressed, through experience, for belief-habit change to be successful.  Part Two of the paper offers a Peircean remedy to this problem, which challenges the common dismissal of people of color’s testimony regarding the continued operation of racist beliefs.  People of color experience patterns of racism-based secondness – or environmental resistance – that white people do not commonly experience.  Thus their testimony must be embraced as a unique experiential perspective, which is indispensable for the community – in this case U.S. society – to successfully eliminate racist belief-habits at both individual and societal levels.

Part One:  The Problem

a.  Colorblindness

In Seeing a Color-Blind Future, African-American legal scholar Patricia Williams addresses the frustration for many people of color regarding the credo of “colorblindness” that informs contemporary mainstream white discourse on race in the United States and the United Kingdom (Williams 1997).[3]  While the assertion of colorblindness can be a well-intentioned way for Euro-American whites to express the unacceptability of racism, colorblindness can also, ironically, promote a racist status quo.[4]  From a Critical Common-sensist perspective, to be discussed shortly, the assertion of colorblindness identifies racist beliefs as dubitable.  Yet unaddressed are the manifold ways that racism still persistently functions in the United States, despite the progress made in the Civil Rights era.  People of color still deal with everyday and systemic discrimination that is more covert than the blatant racism of Jim Crow (Williams 1997, 41; Bonilla-Silva 2003, 2-4; Sullivan 2006, 4-5).  Shannon Sullivan notes, “Race supposedly is not at issue in a society that obsesses over urban ghettoes, crime, the resale value of one’s house, welfare queens, the drug war, the death penalty, and a massively growing prison industry” (Sullivan 2006, 5). [5] 

People of color are regularly confronted with racist cultural habits that have not been fully addressed.  Williams writes,

While I do want to underscore that I embrace color-blindness as a legitimate hope for the future, I worry that we tend to enshrine the notion with a kind of utopianism whose naïveté will ensure its elusiveness.  In the material world ranging from playgrounds to politics, our ideals perhaps need more thoughtful, albeit more complicated, guardianship.  By this I mean something more than the “I think therefore it is” school of idealism.  “I don’t think about color, therefore your problems don’t exist.”  If only it were so easy.  (ibid., 4). 

 

Williams is calling for deeper work to be done on racism.  Merely asserting that “color doesn’t matter” or “racism is wrong” is not enough.  Moreover, it can give the false impression that  racism is being addressed, when it has merely disappeared from the conscious view of white people.  Williams’ concerns parallel those of Peirce regarding “paper doubt,” which he discusses in the context of Critical Common-sensism (5.514).[6] 

b.  Critical Common-sensism and Racist Instinctive Beliefs

An epistemological doctrine, Critical Common-sensism (CCS ) addresses the original, instinctive, or common-sense belief-habits that underwrite human cognition.[7]  Critical Common-sensism acknowledges that, for all their powers of reasoning, humans always-already reason from belief-habits that are so deep-seated as to function outside their immediate awareness and control.  At the same time, CCS maintains that the domain of human self-control is growing and that original or instinctive beliefs can and should, in some cases, be brought under the domain of self-control.[8]  Efforts to examine these beliefs must be undertaken, and those beliefs that are dubitable – once this dubitability is confirmed through scientific testing – must be changed or abandoned.[9]  These efforts must address socialized instinctive beliefs, such as some religious beliefs, in addition to more “natural” ones, such as the belief that “fire burns” (5.498; EP2 349-50; Hookway 2000, 216; Ayim 1982, 19).  For example, Peirce discusses the dubitability of the belief that “suicide is murder,” which is found Christian societies (EP2 349-50).[10]  Extrapolating socio-politically, I include in the category of “socialized instinctive beliefs” ideas about race, sex, and other socio-political classifications. 

A counter-example to Critical Common-sensist thinking is illustrative here.  In Western history a common-sense belief that informed the reasoning of many Europeans and Euro-Americans was that the Caucasian or “white” race is superior to races considered “non-white.”  The pseudo-science of race during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries took for granted racial hierarchies that ranked Euro-American whites superior to non-white races.  Scientist Stephen Jay Gould, notes in this regard that, “the pervasive assent given by scientists to [these] conventional [racial] rankings arose from shared social belief, not from objective data gathered to test an open question” (Gould 1981, 87, emphasis mine).  We could describe this belief in white superiority as an uncriticized common-sense belief.[11]

Merely casting a belief or belief system (in the case of racism) into doubt, however, does not guarantee its elimination from thought and practice.  This is because beliefs are habits.  If a belief-habit’s embodied roots are not addressed, the dubitable belief-habit can resurface easily (5.519; W3: 247-8; EP1 292).  And since the belief is instinctive, part of one’s common-sense worldview that often functions beneath the radar of consciousness, this resurfacing can happen without one’s awareness.   Thus, on the one hand, explicitly racist beliefs in the validity white supremacy are roundly condemned in contemporary U.S. discourse.  On the other hand, racism persists despite well-intentioned appeals to “colorblindness” by white people.  This disparity makes perfect sense in the context of Peirce’s discussion of paper doubt.  

 

c.  Colorblindness as Paper Doubt

Peirce notes that the Critical Common-sensist “has a high esteem for doubt. … Only, his hunger is not to be appeased with paper doubts:  he must have the heavy and noble metal, or else belief” (5.514).  Peirce does not pretend it is possible to raise every single instinctive belief to conscious awareness at will.  Nonetheless, such consciousness-raising is an ideal to which Critical Common-sensists aspire, as they test their instinctive beliefs for dubitability.  It would be an exaggeration to read an overly Cartesian spirit into this effort, however.  While both Descartes and Peirce use doubt as a tool against slavery to authority, Cartesian doubt is both too strong and too superficial (5.517).[12]  In a dialogue between an imaginary interlocutor and an imaginary pragmaticist, Peirce addresses this issue:

Doctor X:  I should think that so passionate a lover of doubt would make a clean sweep of his beliefs.

Pragmaticist:  You naturally would, holding the infant’s mind to be a tabula rasa and the adult’s a school state, on which doubts are written with a soapstone pencil to be cleaned off with the dab of a wet sponge; but if they are marked with talc on man’s ‘glassy essence,’ they may disappear for a long time only to be revived by a breath.  (5.519).

 

Peirce’s point is that Cartesian doubt – or paper doubt – assumes that the mere assertion of doubt suspends a belief, such as the belief in the existence of the world external to one’s body.  Beliefs, however, are embodied habits that cannot be cast off at will.  Some instinctive beliefs are impossible for us to doubt at this time, arguably the belief in the external world belongs to this camp.  Those instinctive beliefs that are possible to doubt – like the racist beliefs under discussion here – have deep roots in our embodied experience of the world.  Mere paper doubt of these beliefs – i.e. merely asserting their problematic nature – is insufficient to change or eliminate them.  Either experience or imagination has to intervene if the embodied belief-habit is to be modified (5.524).  

For example, in her recent book, Revealing Whiteness, Sullivan comments on how to address habits of white privilege appropriately:

A white person who wishes to try to change her raced and racist habits would do better to change the environments she inhabits than (to attempt) to use ‘will power’ to change the way she thinks about and reacts to non-white people. … A person cannot merely intellectualize a change of habit by telling herself that she will no longer think or behave in particular ways.  The key to transformation is to find a way of disrupting a habit through environmental change and then hope that the changed environment will help produced [sic] an improved habit in its place.  (Sullivan 2006, 9)

In other words, “intellectualiz[ing] a change of habit…” – what Peirce calls paper doubt – is not sufficient to eradicate racist belief-habits (ibid).  More is needed, such as the new experience that a change in environment would provide, so that the belief-habits’ embodied roots can be confronted:  “For belief, while it lasts, is a strong habit, and as such, forces the man to believe until some surprise breaks up the habit.  The breaking of a belief can only be due to some novel experience, whether external or internal” (5.524).  For Peirce, “surprise” means secondness, i.e. environmental resistance to our projects (EP2 150-5, 194-5).  Experience teaches us by means of surprises or secondness, which disturb the routine flow of our belief-habits.  We will discuss this point more fully later, as we examine how, in the United States, the racism-based secondness experienced by people of color is rarely experienced by white people. 

The primary point here is this:  when a belief is only paper doubted, the belief-habit both is “cast into doubt” and probably continues to function without one’s awareness.  To give a simple example, a person used to living with electricity has probably experienced the paper doubt that often occurs during power outages.  On the one hand, the belief “the power is on” is in doubt – the electronic devices have suddenly stopped working.  On the other hand, even while knowing the power is out, she may inadvertently try to turn on the television.  The belief-habit about the electricity is both being doubted and still functioning.  This is because our belief-habits function so automatically as to overrule a simple conscious assertion of doubt.  In this scenario the impotent television provides a straightforward cue that one has just acted on a belief-habit that is supposedly in doubt.

Colorblindness provides a more complex example of paper doubt.  Here we have, on the one hand, racist belief-habits that have been placed in doubt in mainstream U.S. discourse.  On the other hand, there is consistent testimony that racist belief habits are still functioning in U.S. society.  In contrast to an individual confronting her belief-habits, however, colorblindness involves a community’s confrontation of its belief-habits.  It is much easier for one person to determine whether she is acting according to belief-habits about something as clean-cut as the power being out.  There is only one person to convince, the person herself.   And the ineffectual television set is an indisputable cue that the belief-habit has been acted on.  In the case of colorblindness, a community is involved. 

Moreover, environmental feedback about the belief-habits in question is not linked to an inanimate object that fails to “turn on.”  Instead, the feedback involves people giving testimony, and the testimony is mixed.  Some members – often white people – insist that they themselves and/or U.S. society are colorblind and therefore racist belief-habits have been eliminated.  Others – often people of color – insist that racist belief-habits are still in play.[13]  What results is communal disagreement about whether or not racist belief-habits have been eradicated.  In terms of paper doubt, we could say that the first group believes that paper doubt of racist beliefs is enough to eradicate them.  Pronouncing the wrongness or dubitability of racist beliefs, on this view, is sufficient for eradicating racist behavior on individual and societal levels.  The second group grasps the ineffectiveness of paper doubt, testifying to on-going racism in U.S. society despite supposed colorblindness.  The testimony of people of color about racism, however, is often dismissed within the white-dominated discourse in the United States, such that the first group’s paper doubt holds sway.  This dismissal often occurs without serious or sincere consideration of the claim, coupled with the accusation of “playing the race card” (Bonilla-Silva 2003, 29, 179; hooks 2003, 30ff, 25-40).  To borrow a phrase from Lorraine Code, people of color often do not have “rhetorical space” in which to voice and to receive uptake regarding their experience of racism (Code 1995, ix-x; cf. Tuana 2006, 13).  This paper doubt-fueled dismissal is underwritten by the assumption that a person cannot behave in a racist fashion unless she consciously intends too.[14]

Part Two:  A Peircean Remedy for Colorblindness

            A Peircean assessment of the colorblindness discourse in mainstream United States is that it blocks the road of inquiry, as all paper doubt does.  Paper doubt builds a false confidence that the belief-habits in question have been sufficiently eradicated, while those same beliefs can “be revived by a breath” and function without one’s awareness (5.519).  When suggestions arise that racism is still in play, the paper doubt of colorblindness dismisses the hypothesis:  “Racism cannot still function in the United States, we are colorblind now” (cf. Bonilla-Silva 2003, 177ff).  To dismiss a hypothesis in this fashion without subjecting it to a fair investigation obstructs scientific and societal inquiry and growth. 

A Peircean remedy to problem of colorblindness would involve a community’s embrace of Critical Common-sensism, including the rejection of paper doubt.  How does such a remedy play out within Peirce’s thought?  Admittedly, Peirce does not explicitly address communal disagreement about whether a dubitable and unacceptable instinctive belief is still functioning, and he certainly does not comment on colorblindness.  Nonetheless, many strands of Peircean thought can be brought to bear on this issue.  Generally speaking, we can highlight Peirce’s fallibilism and his commitments to the self-correcting character of human reason, the infinitely inclusive ideal for the community of inquiry, and the use of agape as a model for growth and change (EP2 43, W3: 284, EP1 352-71).  Communities are at their most reasonable when they are at their most open-minded and open-hearted.  This includes embracing testimony about, in this case, on-going racism, and subjecting corresponding hypotheses to fair scientific testing.  Peirce believed that human knowledge is always open to improvement by the inclusion of a perspective hitherto unknown to, or even disrespected within, the community.  In the essay, “Evolutionary Love,” he defends the poor, considered weak and dispensable within the greedy circles of power in his nineteenth century society (EP1 354-8).  He is also aware that an individual or group may need to challenge the beliefs of the wider community to promote communal growth, as he himself models through the innovative scientific views articulated in his Monist “cosmology series” of the 1890’s.

            A more specific Peircean strategy for combating paper doubt is to use testimony as a tool.  Recall that intervention through internal or external experience is necessary to truly change a belief-habit.  Thus a community should embrace – as a legitimate source of hypotheses about instinctive beliefs that may still be in play – the testimony of members who offer a unique experiential perspective compared to others in the community.  The uniqueness of their experience is not to be uncritically heralded; it does not eliminate the necessity of scientific testing of hypotheses.  The point is that through testimony the limitations of one’s experience – due to race, sex, economic class, etc. – are addressed, as well as the fact that instinctive belief-habits can resurface without one’s awareness of them.  Embracing the testimony of all community members extends the experiential reach of the community as a whole.  Testimony about a group’s external experience can expand one’s own internal experience – i.e. one’s imagination – regarding the instinctive belief in question.  More specifically, testimony about racism from people of color can help the white community member imagine (since direct experience is not possible) the prevalence of racism against people of color, even in a post- Civil Rights era society.  This gives the white member a means by which to grasp the hypothesis that racism is still present.[15]  Thus testimony helps the community “catch” resurfaced instinctive beliefs, in this case racist ones, that not all members see. 

Peirce notes, “Could I be assured that other men candidly and with sufficient deliberation doubt any proposition which I regard as indubitable, that fact would inevitably cause me to doubt it, too” (5.509).  This is not merely a matter of peer pressure, although Peirce is well aware of the impact the social impulse has on the individual.  Others may doubt or endorse a belief due to their experience in the world – experience other members of the community have not had.   Regarding colorblindness, we could rephrase Peirce’s statement to read, “Could I be assured that other men and women candidly and with sufficient deliberation find racist belief-habits still functioning in the U.S., that fact would inevitably cause me to agree that racist belief-habits are indeed still functioning.”  People of color living in the United States have an experiential edge over white people, regarding racism.  Let us briefly examine why by drawing on Peirce’s phenomenology. 

The Experiential Edge:  Social Habit, Racism, and Secondness

Peirce’s phenomenology presents three ever-present dimensions of human experience:  firstness, secondness, and thirdness.  Secondness – our focus here – describes the “non-ego” confrontations by which environmental resistance to one’s projects occurs (EP2 150-5, 194-5).[16]  Secondness is integral to the learning process by which humans identify the large-scale habits that characterize reality itself (ibid).  Slipping and falling on a patch of ice, for example, is an instance of secondness that facilitates learning about habits of gravity and friction.  I include within Peircean secondness the socio-political resistance resulting from discriminatory societal habits like racism.  For example, African-American philosopher Cornel West has written about being refused on one occasion by ten cabs in New York City, making him late for a photo shoot for a book he had just written.  He also notes harassment from police who have pulled him over on fake drug charges, as well as “for driving too slowly on a residential street with a speed limit of twenty-five miles per hour” (West 2001, xxv).  In these experiences, discrimination-based obstacles or secondness have interfered with West’s projects.

The reality of habits of nature, like gravity, is reflected in the patterns of secondness experienced by humans, who can in turn identify these habits.  Likewise, the reality of racist habits in the United States, is reflected in patterns of socio-political secondness experienced by people of color, who can in turn identify these racist habits.[17]  While gravitational habits create secondness for all humans, however, racist habits in the U.S. create secondness differentially.  White people, for the most part, do not experience socio-political secondness based on race, while people of color do.  The race-based, socio-political secondness Cornel West has experienced with cabs and police harassment, for example, is not commonly experienced by white people in the United States.  White people experience an absence of race-based secondness, such that their race – their being “white” – can seem invisible to them (Mills 1997, 76).[18]  This absence makes it difficult for Euro-American people to identify racist societal (and individual) habits functioning in United States culture.  

By embracing the testimony of those who have an experiential edge regarding racist societal habits, namely people of color, white people can overcome the limitations of their experience regarding race.  They can thereby grasp that racist instinctive beliefs are, indeed, still in play.  Thus a phenomenologically enhanced understanding of testimony provides a Peircean solution to overcoming paper doubt and colorblindness.

Conclusion

            By way of conclusion, I offer two discussions into which my project fits.  In its embrace of the unique experiential perspective of people of color, my project threads the needle for a Peircean contribution to pragmatist-feminist standpoint theory, whose ground has been laid by Charlene Seigfried and Shannon Sullivan.[19]  In its Peircean diagnosis of the colorblindness problem as a complex instance of paper doubt, my project also invokes epistemologies of ignorance:  It studies the lack of knowledge many well-intentioned white people in the United States have about racism.  It also examines why this lack of knowledge exists (Tuana 2006).[20]  I would argue that Peirce – who believed in the evolution of his ideas – would approve of these contemporary efforts to improve the inclusiveness of human inquiry.

 

REFERENCES:

Alcoff, Linda Martín. 2006. Visible Identities: Race, Gender and the Self.  New York:  Oxford

University Press.

 

Ayim, Maryann.  1982.  Peirce’s View of the Roles of Reason and Instinct in Scientific Inquiry.

            Meerut City, India:  Anu Prakashan.

 

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2003. Racism Without Racists:  Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence      of Racial Inequality in the United States.  Lanham, Md.: Roman and Littlefield

Publishers.

 

Code, Lorraine. 1995.  Rhetorical Spaces.  New York:  Routledge.

 

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1981. “American Polygeny and Craniometry Before Darwin.” In The

Mismeasure of Man, from Racial Economy of Science.  W.W. Norton and Company.

 

Hacker, Andrew. 1995. Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal. 2nd ed.

            New York:  Ballantine.

 

Hookway, Christopher.  2000.  Truth, Rationality, and Pragmatism.  Oxford:  Oxford University

Press.

 

hooks, bell. 1997.  Wounds of Passion.  New York:  Henry Holt and Company.

 

__________. 2003.  Teaching Community. New York:  Routledge.

Mills, Charles W. 1997.  The Racial Contract.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

 

Peirce, Charles S. 1998. The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings: Volume Two

(1893-1913). Ed. the Peirce Edition Project.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

 

__________. 1992a. The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings: Volume One

(1867-1893). Eds. N. Houser and C. Kloesel.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

 

__________. 1992b. Reasoning and the Logic of Things. Ed. Kenneth Laine Ketner.

Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

 

__________. 1984-6. Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition: Volumes 2-3. Eds.

E. Moore, M. Fisch, C.W.J. Kloesel, et al..  Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 

 

__________. 1958-65. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Eds. C. Hartshorne, P.

Weiss, and A. Burks.  Cambridge:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

 

Seigfried, Charlene Haddock. 1996.  Pragmatism and Feminism: Reweaving the Social Fabric.

            Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press. 

 

Sullivan, Shannon. 2006. Revealing Whiteness.  Bloomington:  Indiana University Press.

 

__________. 2001. Living Across and Through Skins.  Bloomington:  Indiana University Press.

 

Tuana, Nancy. 2006.  “The Speculum of Ignorance:  The Women’s Health Movement and

Epistemologies of Ignorance.” Hypatia 21(3), 1-19. 

 

West, Cornel.  2001.  Race Matters.  New York:  Random House. 

 

Williams, Patricia.  1997.  Seeing a Color-Blind Future:  the Paradox of Race.  New York: 

Farrar, Straus,  and Giroux.

 

 

NOTES:


 

[1] For sociological research on this phenomenon, regarding anti-black racism, see Racism Without Racists (Bonilla-Silva 2003).  Bonilla-Silva’s research indicates that “colorblind” whites often allow that some racism occurs, but at the same time deny its systemic impact on education, employment, and residential choices for African-Americans (ibid., see especially Chapter 2: “The Central Frames of Color-Blind Racism,” 25-52).  Bonilla acknowledges that many well-intentioned whites subscribe to colorblindness (ibid., 13-14, 15, 54).

 

[2] Bonilla-Silva 2003, 29, 179; hooks 2003, 30-31, 35.

 

[3] Colorblindness is a prominent theme in Shannon Sullivan’s Revealing Whiteness, (Sullivan 2006, 5, 61, 78-9, 123, 127, 189-92, 196).  See also bell hooks’ Teaching Community (hooks 2003, “Talking Race and Racism,” 25-40). 

 

[4] For discussions of the use of colorblindness as a strategy for cloaking racist thinking, see Charles Mills’ The Racial Contract (Mills 1997, 76-77); Sullivan 2006, 5, 127; Bonilla-Silva 2003.

 

[5] Linda Martín Alcoff notes, “The legitimacy and moral relevance of racial concepts is officially denied even while race continues to determine job prospects, career possibilities, available places to live, potential friends and lovers, reactions from police, credence form jurors, and the amount of credibility one is given by one’s students. … As of 1992, black and Latino men working full time in the United States earned an average of 68 percent of what white men earned, while black and Latina women earned 59 percent.  As of 1995, Latino and black unemployment rates were more than double that of whites.” (Alcoff 2006, 181).  Alcoff recommends, as a source for further statistics, Andrew Hacker’s Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal (Hacker 1995).  See also, Bonilla-Silva 2003, 16, 33, 39, 41.

 

[6] Collected Papers volume 5, paragraph 514 (Peirce 1958-65).  Hereafter, references to the Collected Papers will be in the standard notation of volume number followed by paragraph number.  For example, “5.441” signifies volume 5 of the Collected Papers, paragraph 441 (Peirce, 1958-65).  References to the Writings of Charles S. Peirce conform to the standard notation “W,” followed by the volume and page numbers. “W4:134” for example, signifies volume four of the Writings, page 134.  References to The Essential Peirce, Volumes One and Two will be referred to by EP1 and EP2, respectively, followed by the page number (Peirce 1992a, 1998).  Finally, references to Reasoning and the Logic of Things will be abbreviated RLT followed by the page number (Peirce 1992b).

 

[7] Peirce says that original beliefs are “of the general nature of instincts” (EP2 349, emphasis mine).  He does not define what he means by instinct in this CCS context, but notes that he uses the term “in a broad sense” (5.499).  He seems to be using instinct to refer to the following dimensions of “original beliefs”:  they are “irresistible,” “uncontrolled,” and reflect “innate cognitive habits” (5.499, 5.522, 5.504).  They can also function non-consciously.  [Recall that for Peirce consciousness is not “a separate tissue, overlying an unconscious region of the occult nature, mind, soul, or physiological basis” (EP2 347).  Rather, “the difference is only relative and the demarcation not precise” (ibid).]  Instinct also conveys the reliability of original beliefs:  “[N]othing is so unerring as instinct within its proper field, while reason goes wrong about as often as right – perhaps oftener” (5.522).  This reliability is the result of vast amounts of human experience.  That is to say, original beliefs “rest on…the total everyday experience of many generations of multitudinous populations” (ibid.).  Instinct is not foolproof, however, as (1) it can be outstripped by the human species’ development of self-control (5.511), and (2) instinct can be socialized to reflect narrow cultural or socio-political bias, which will be discussed more fully below.

 

[8] “[I]ndubitable beliefs refer to a somewhat primitive mode of life, and… while they never become dubitable in so far as our mode of life remains that of somewhat primitive man, yet as we develop degrees of self-control unknown to that man, occasions of action arise in relation to which the original beliefs, if stretched to cover them, have no sufficient authority.  In other words, we outgrow the applicability of instinct – not altogether, by any manner of means, but in our highest activities.” (5.511, Peirce’s emphasis). 

 

[9] On the relationship between scientific testing and common-sense beliefs, see Hookway 2000, 150-51, 192.  Those beliefs that cannot be doubted are then considered acritical; efforts have been made to criticize them, but no dubitability was found.  The criterion of vagueness is important here.  Peirce insists that acritical instinctive beliefs must be vague, not so vague as to convey nothing, but vague enough that the principle of contradiction does not apply to them (EP2 350; 5.505).  He explicitly warns against rendering specific beliefs indubitable (EP2 433).  An example to be discussed shortly:  the specified assumption that non-white races are inferior to the Caucasian, “white” race informed and thus undermined Western science during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

 

[10] Socially-derived instinctive beliefs are shaped and reinforced from childhood onward by specific cultural messages, such that they take on “common sense” certainty.  It should be noted that, in some contexts, Peirce uses the terms “instinct” and its derivatives to refer strictly to belief-habits that humans are biologically predisposed to voluntarily (vs. mechanically) embrace or perform (EP2 473; 1913).  In other contexts he uses the terms “instinct” and “sentiment” synonymously, to convey deep-seated belief-habits that are socially-derived, like our religious beliefs (RLT 110-11, 1898; cf. W3:253 and EP1 377n22, c. 1910).  Peirce’s discussion of suicide uses “instinctive” in the former sense (EP2 350, 1905).

 

[11] To give a specific example, Gould argues that an assumption of the superiority of the Caucasian race non-consciously informed the infamous skull-measuring experiments of Samuel Morton.  Morton’s work, Gould tells us, was riddled with bad methodology that unduly favored Caucasian “superiority,” yet this same work shows no intentional fraud.  There was no evidence of cover up, despite the egregiously biased and ad hoc efforts to skew the results towards white superiority (Gould 1981, 102-111).  The belief in white supremacy was, arguably, instinctive to Morton’s reasoning such that it operated without his awareness.

 

[12] Hookway describes Peirce’s position on the matter: “[W]e should question our beliefs, hunting out those which have been acquired on an insecure basis.  Peirce’s objection to Descartes is simply that he too readily believed that he was able to doubt propositions (or ought to doubt propositions) which should not be doubted.” (Hookway 2000, 209n11; cf. ibid., 204-5)

 

[13] Note that I am not saying that all whites do not understand the continued presence of racism and that all people of color do.  bell hooks discusses the complexity of the issue of awareness of racism and internalized racism for whites and people of color in her chapter on “Talking Race and Racism” in Teaching Community (hooks 2003, 25-41).  Nonetheless it is common enough for a person of color to be the only, say, black person in a room full of whites (ibid, 27, 33). 

 

[14] Linda Martín Alcoff puts it this way:  “[I]t is commonly believed that for one to be a racist one must be able to access in consciousness some racist belief, and that if introspection fails to produce such a belief then one is simply not racist” (Alcoff 2006, 188). 

 

[15]  Peirce notes that conducting inner experimentations in imagination is a strategy for determining whether instinctive beliefs are dubitable (5.507, 5.517).  In the present context, I argue that the embrace of testimony is a tool by which imagination can be applied to determining whether or not racist instinctive beliefs are still in play (despite their having been called into doubt).

 

[16] Firstness refers to the pre-discursive awareness that underlies our actions and our thoughts (EP2 150.)  Thirdness encompasses the felt sense of synthesis involved in learning, and the habits that result from learning (EP1 260-2, 264). 

 

[17]  African-American social critic bell hooks describes the experience of being black in the United States:  “Living in a world of racial apartheid where custom and conventions invented to separate black and white lasted long past an end to legal racial discrimination, those who are powerless – black folks – must be overly aware of small details as we go about our lives to be sure we do not enter forbidden territory – to be sure we will not be hurt.  You learn to notice things.  You learn where not to walk, the stores you don’t want to go in…. [Y]ou cannot live the way other people live” (hooks 1997, 97).  Cf. Alcoff’s chapter, “The Phenomenology of Racial Embodiment,” (Alcoff 2006, 179-94), and Charles Mills’ discussion, in The Racial Contract, of the “epistemology of the victims” of white supremacy, where he incorporates standpoint theory (Mills 1997, 109ff).

 

[18] “[I]n a racially structured polity, the only people who can find it psychologically possible to deny the centrality of race are those who are racially privileged, for whom race is invisible precisely because the world is structured around them, whiteness as the ground against which the figures of other races…appear” (Mills 1997, 76).

 

[19] See Pragmatism and Feminism (Seigfried 1996) and “Transactional Knowing:  Towards a Pragmatist-Feminist Standpoint Theory” in Living Across and Through Skins (Sullivan 2001, 133-156). 

 

[20] Tuana notes the relationship between standpoint theory and epistemologies of ignorance (ibid., 8).  The Summer, 2006 issue of Hypatia is a Special Issue dedicated to Epistemologies of Ignorance, edited by Nancy Tuana and Shannon Sullivan (volume 21, number 3).