The role of community in Peirce's conception of science
Patrick Coppock

In Peirce's conception of science the notion of community, and more particularly that of the community of inquirers plays an central role. This becomes clear as we read the following two passages:

'The real is, then, that which, sooner or later, information and reasoning would finally result in, and which is therefore independent of the vagaries of you and me. Thus, the very origin of the conception of reality shows that the conception essentially involves the notion of COMMUNITY, without definite limits, and capable of a definite increase in knowledge.' (CP 5.311)

and also:

'Finally, as what anything really is, it is what may finally come to be known to be in the ideal state of complete information, so that reality depends on the ultimate decision of the community; so thought is what it is, only by virtue of its addressing a future thought which is in its value as thought identical with it, though more developed. In this way, the existence of thought now depends on what is to be hereafter; so that it has only a potential existence, dependent on the future thought of the community.' (CP 5.316)

Peirce's point here is not to claim that reality per se is dependent on some form of concensus in the commnunity, but rather that our individual and collective understandings of the world will be facilitated in approaching that which is real in the long run of things so long as inquiry is carried on in a community of inquirers. This means, in Peirce's terms, a community which both accepts and practices the normative requirements for scientific inquiry expressed in the pragmatic maxim. Under such conditions, which according to Peirce will compensate positively for the fallibility of individual opinions and beliefs, the opinions shared by the community of inquirers cannot but help converge in the long run with that which is real in the long run. Nonetheless, such an "ideal state of complete information" is in itself only a hypothesis, a "would-be" and must thus always remain a matter for belief on the part of human beings as individual, finite, inquirers

Key Words: