Friday, 27 February 2015

Doubt is a bad thing - not a good thing

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Doubt is a part of life - it is one of the trials of human existence - it is inevitable; but it is not a good state to be in.

Doubts are temptations to sin - we all get them, but must strive not to yield to them; and when (as happen) we do yield to our doubts - then we need to repent.

We live in a society which does nothing else so effectively as plant doubts, water and grow doubts - and encourage doubts to seed, spread and make more and yet more doubts...

This is also a society of unprecedented nihilism, irreligion, cowardice, lack of principle and mainstream moral inversion - and the ground for this situation was prepared by two or three centuries of the 'cult of doubting' among the elites.

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Certainly we can and should learn from overcoming our doubts - and can be made the stronger for the experience; as we can and should learn and grow from overcoming any other of our sins. Christ came to save sinners, and that includes doubters.

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But certainly we should not celebrate doubts! Certainly we should not make heroes of those who live in a perpetual state of doubt. Certainly we should not encourage and admire people who argue in favour of their doubts, propagandise their doubt, or who pride themselves on supposedly superior insight/ sensitivity because they doubt!

That is the very last thing we ought to do with doubts!

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7 comments:

JP said...

"We live in a society which does nothing else so effectively as plant doubts, water and grow doubts - and encourage doubts to seed, spread and make more and yet more doubts..."

Only with respect to things the elite hates -- truth, beauty, and virtue.

If you dare to doubt anything the elites insist we should believe -- e.g., anthropogenic global warming, all races are the same under the skin, mass immigration is a good and inevitable thing, a certain sect is a "religion of peace" -- then you will be branded the Worst Person Ever and hounded until you recant. Doubt is simply not permissible in those cases. Doubt makes you a Denier.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP. Indeed.

This applies to pretty much all who pride themselves on being skeptical, critical, rigorous, requiring of 'evidence' for all beliefs - these are those with the largest blind-spots - those who most swiftly resort to ad hominem attacks on those who apply the same standards to the skeptic's cherished assumptions.

Unknown said...

I agree that living in a perpetual state of doubt and pessimism is rotten. However it's only by doubting things _by attempting to criticise them_ that we know whether they are true. If they are true, our criticisms will fail we will understand them better. We will know *why* they are true.Thus doubting can paradoxically render an idea *more* secure in our minds. The opposing approach would be the assumption of infallibility (I just *know* that X) which leads to stasis. It actually resembles pessimism in its effects. See Chap. 9 of 'The Beginning of Infinity' by David Deutsch.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Unknown - Not true.

Some examples - is it a good thing to doubt the love and faithfulness of your wife - to criticise and test her love, to spy on her?

Is it a good thing to doubt the consensus about crack cocaine and give it a try?

Maybe the hazards of Ebola are exaggerated? There is no end to the dangerous and wicked things you would feel obliged to try if doubt is admitted to be a good thing.

Furthermore, you never will know anything is true by doubting it, because evidence is never, ever conclusive - not even in physics, never mind in religion and life.

Doubt is just a part of life, it happens, it is impossible to avoid it - but it is a one way ticket to misery (perhaps eternally) to imagine that doubt is, in general and in principle, 'a good thing'. We do not need to seek it out!

Unknown said...

Yes, doubts *will* arise from time to time, and I think entertaining them briefly by engaging in criticism is a rational response. This isn't to advocate *arbitrary* criticism.

Agree with you and Popper that theories can never be 'confirmed'. Yet knowing why something is true doesn't mean we can't be mistaken about it. We remain fallible through and through.

Perhaps we could acknowledge that a doubt may come from a good place or a bad place. This will be indicated by the accompanying emotion. And perhaps denial *is* an appropriate response to the latter.

But some species of doubt ('epistemic doubt'?) must be good otherwise progress wouldn't be possible. In order to improve our ideas we must expect to find flaws and falsehoods.

-- Tom

Bruce Charlton said...

@Tom - With these questions there is a first-line response, which is the best answer for public debate and politics, and the constraints these operate under.

If, in these conditions, we fall into the public habit of thinking that doubt is good, then this means something like 'we must live on the assumption that everything is probably wrong' (except for unprincipled exceptions which we agree we won't talk about).'

It seems to me that, doubt has nothing to do with whether or not people are fallible -doubt is a state of mind, fallibility is a matter of fact. In my experience, whether people are plagued with doubts or think they are never wrong is independent of their reliability/fallibility.

In science, I believe that the role of doubt is misunderstood - but I think that will probably need to be dealt with in a blog post.

Karl said...

William Blake on doubt (from his Auguries of Innocence; an emmet is an ant):

A riddle or the cricket's cry
Is to doubt a fit reply.
The emmet's inch and eagle's mile
Make lame philosophy to smile.
He who doubts from what he sees
Will ne'er believe, do what you please.
If the sun and moon should doubt,
They'd immediately go out.