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doubt

Doubt

Doubt, from the Latin dubitare (“to hesitate,” originally “to choose between two things”), describes a state of uncertainty or undecided wavering with regard to something that can be taken as either true or false. We differentiate between theoretical, moral, and religious doubt. Doubt requires critical thinking; it can simultaneously possess methodological significance and also constitute a preliminary stage of understanding, as with Saint Augustine (“Si fallor sum,” “If I am mistaken, I am”) and René Descartes. In the pre-Enlightenment period, doubt was considered a sin, an evil to be eliminated without delay. As a permanent condition, doubt was thought to lead to despair. In scientific, philosophical, and practical thought, doubt is the factor that keeps the mind in motion. Without doubt, understanding is impossible.

Vilém Flusser calls doubt a state of mind with many meanings, one that puts an end to all certainty. In the book Da Dúvida [On Doubt], written in 1963–1964, he states: “In moderate doses it stimulates thought. In excessive doses, it paralyzes all mental activity.” (On Doubt, 2014, p. 3) And though belief is the state of mind from which doubt proceeds, “[t]he naivety and innocence of the spirit dissolve in the corrosive acid of doubt” (ibid.). Thus initial and authentic certainties gradually disappear. An extension of the Cartesian “Cogito ergo sum” would be “I doubt, therefore I am.”

Flusser counters: I am a stream of thoughts that doubt. In this formulation, one thought follows another, since the first thought requires a second thought to be sure of itself. The thought experiment of doubting doubt is the theoretical aspect of radical doubt, the intellectualization of the intellect. Total intellectualization, however, leads to nihilism. René Descartes’s doubt is the preservation of belief in intellect.

Original article by Eckhard Fürlus in Flusseriana

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doubt.txt · Last modified: 2021/11/05 17:47 (external edit)