Definitions

dispels doubt

Doubt

[dout]

Doubt, a status between belief and disbelief, involves uncertainty or distrust or lack of sureness of an alleged fact, an action, a motive, or a decision. Doubt brings into question some notion of a perceived "reality", and may involve delaying or rejecting relevant action out of concerns for mistakes or faults or appropriateness. It may also be defined as a state in which the mind is suspended between two contradictory propositions and unable to assent to either of them. The term "to doubt" can also mean "to question one's circumstances and life-experience".

Impact on society

Doubt sometimes tends to call on reason. It may encourage people to hesitate before acting, and/or to apply more rigorous methods. Doubt may have particular importance as leading towards disbelief or non-acceptance.

Politics, ethics and law, faced with decisions that often determine the course of individual life, place great importance on doubt, and often foster elaborate adversarial processes to carefully sort through all the evidence in an attempt to come to a decision.

One view regards the scientific method, and to a degree all of science, as entirely motivated by doubt: rather than accepting existing theories, scientists express systematic or habitual doubt (skepticism) and devise experiments to test (and, optimally, to disprove) any theory. Some commentators see technology as simply the expansion of the experiments to a wider user-base, which takes real risks with it. Users may no longer doubt the applicability of the theory in play, but there remain doubts about how it interacts with the real world qua whole. The process of technology-transfer stages exploitation of science to ensure the minimization of doubt and danger.

Psychology

Psychoanalysts often attribute doubt (which they may interpret as a symptom of a phobia emanating from the ego) to childhood, when the ego develops. Childhood experiences, these traditions maintain, can plant doubt about one's abilities and even about one's very identity — let alone doubt about the operations of the tooth fairy. The influence of parents and other influential figures often carries heavy connotations onto the resultant self-image of the child/ego, with doubts often included in such self-portrayals.

Cognitive mental as well as more spiritual approaches abound in response to the wide variety of potential causes for doubt — sometimes seen as a "Bad Thing". Behavioral therapy — in which a person systematically asks his own mind if the doubt has any real basis — uses rational, Socratic methods. Behavioral therapists claim that any constant confirmation leads to emotional detachment from the original doubt. This method contrasts to those of say, the Buddhist faith, which involve a more esoteric approach to doubt and inaction. Buddhism sees all doubt as a negative attachment to one's perceived past and future. To let go of the personal history of one's life (affirming this release every day in meditation) plays a central role in releasing the doubts — developed in and attached to — that history. Through much spiritual exertion, one can (if desired) dispel doubt, and live "only in the present".

Psychopathology

Many people associate "excessive" doubt with obsessive-compulsive disorder, sometimes nicknamed a "disease of doubt".

Philosophy

Descartes employed Cartesian doubt as a pre-eminent methodological tool in his fundamental philosophical investigations.

Branches of philosophy like logic devote much effort to distinguish the dubious, the probable and the certain. Much of illogic rests on dubious assumptions, dubious data or dubious conclusions, with rhetoric, whitewashing, and deception playing their accustomed roles.

Religion

Doubt that god(s) exist forms the basis of agnosticism — possibly definable as the belief that one cannot determine the existence of god(s) — and atheism, which can entail either not believing in god(s) or believing that no god(s) exist(s).

By extension, doubt as to the existence or intentions of the Christian God applies to doubt concerning the Christian Bible as well, bringing into question its alleged status as the word of God, and propounding alternative explanations (such as a work of mythology like Homer's ancient Greek epics the Iliad and the Odyssey). Doubt of a religion itself brings into question the truth of its set of beliefs. Alternatively, doubt as to some doctrines but the acceptance of others may lead to the growth of heresy and/or the splitting off of sects. Thus proto-Protestants doubted papal authority, and substituted alternative methods of governance in their new (but still recognizably Christian) churches.

Christians often debate doubt in the contexts of salvation and eventual redemption in an afterlife. This issue has become particularly important in the Protestant version of the Christian faith, which requires only acceptance of Jesus as saviour and intermediary with God for a positive outcome. The debate appears less important in most other religions and ethical traditions.

Spirituality

In the context of spirituality, individuals may see doubt as the opposite of faith. If faith represents a compulsion to follow a path, doubt may succeed in blocking that particular path. People use doubts and faith every day to choose the life path that they follow; for example: "I doubt that laziness will help me achieve my goals".

Doubt can serve to create individual illusions to shield the vision of an unpleasant outcome. "I doubt anyone will catch me if I rob this store." Depending upon the energy put into the doubt, when used in this way, doubt itself may have little impact on events, merely blocking the individual from seeing possibilities.

See also

Further reading

  • Hecht, Jennifer Michael (2003). Doubt: a history: the great doubters and their legacy of innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. This book traces the role of doubt through human history, all over the world, particularly regarding religion.
  • Hein, David (Winter 2006). "Faith and Doubt in Rose Macaulay's The Towers of Trebizond". Anglican Theological Review 88 (1): 47-68. ISSN 0003-3286.

References

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