In the Way of Inquiry • Objections to Reflexive Inquiry

Inquiry begins when an automatic routine or normal course of activity is interrupted and agents are thrown into doubt concerning what is best to do next and what is really true of their situation.  If this interruptive aspect of inquiry applies at the level of self-application then occasions for inquiry into inquiry arise when an ongoing inquiry into any subject becomes obstructed and agents are obliged to initiate a new order of inquiry in order to overcome the obstacle.

At such moments agents need the ability to pause and reflect — to accept the interruption of the inquiry in progress, to acknowledge the higher order of uncertainty obstructing the current investigation, and finally to examine accepted conventions and prior convictions regarding the conduct of inquiry in general.  The next order of inquiry requires agents to articulate the assumptions embodied in previous inquiries, to consider their practical effects in light of their objective intents, and to reconstruct forms of conduct which formerly proceeded through their paces untroubled by any articulate concern.

Our agent of inquiry is brought to the threshold of two questions:

  • What actions are available to achieve the aims of the present activity?
  • What assumptions already accepted are advisable to amend or abandon?

The inquirer is faced in the object of inquiry with an obstinately oppositional state of affairs, a character marked by the Greek word pragma for object, whose manifold of senses and derivatives includes among its connotations the ideas of purposeful objectives and problematic objections, and not too incidentally both inquiries and expositions.

An episode of inquiry bears the stamp of an interlude — it begins and ends in medias res with respect to actions and circumstances neither fixed nor fully known.  As easy as it may be to overlook the contingent character of the inquiry process it’s just as essential to observe a couple of its consequences:

First, it means genuine inquiry does not touch on the inciting action at points of total doubt or absolute certainty.  An incident of inquiry does not begin or end in absolute totalities but only in the differential and relative measures which actually occasion its departures and resolutions.

Inquiry as a process does not demand absolutely secure foundations from which to set out or any “place to stand” from which to examine the balance of onrushing events.  It needs no more than it does in fact have at the outset — assumptions not in practice doubted just a moment before and a circumstance of conflict that will force the whole situation to be reviewed before returning to the normal course of affairs.

Second, the interruptive character or escapist interpretation of inquiry is especially significant when contemplating programs of inquiry with recursive definitions, as the motivating case of inquiry into inquiry.  It means the termination criterion for an inquiry subprocess is whatever allows continuation of the calling process.

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This entry was posted in Animata, C.S. Peirce, Inquiry, Inquiry Driven Systems, Inquiry Into Inquiry, Intelligent Systems, Semiotics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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