Doubt and Belief

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DOUBT AND BELIEF . [This entry is a philosophical discussion of the interrelation of doubt and belief in the Western tradition.]

Doubt and skepticism, although popularly accounted antithetical to religious belief and alien to the religious attitude, are in fact inseparable from every deeply religious disposition. The fact that twentieth-century philosophical critique of religion focused on questions of meaning rather than on questions of truth (the usual preoccupation in the nineteenth century, when T. H. Huxley coined the term agnostic ) does not at all diminish the importance of doubt as part of the intellectual process of religious belief. All authentic religious faith, indeed, may be viewed as a descant on doubt.

The Meaning of Doubt

The word doubt, although often regarded as the opposite of belief, signifies primarily vacillation, perplexity, irresolution. These primary meanings are discoverable in the Latin word from which doubt is derived: dubito, which is grammatically the frequentative of the Old Latin dubo, from duo ("two"). To doubt means, therefore, to be of two minds, to stand at the crossroads of the mind. The regular German word for doubt (Zweifel, from zwei, "two") brings out the vacillating connotation more obviously than does the English word. In German, Zweifelgeist means "skepticism, the spirit of doubt," and Er zweifelte was er tun sollte means "He was in doubt what he should do"that is, he was of two minds about it. The Greek doiazō ("I doubt") also exhibits this two-mindedness.

Doubt, therefore, is not to be equated with unbelief or disbelief but rather with a vacillation between the two opposites: unbelief and belief. In doubt there are always two propositions or theses between which the mind oscillates without resting completely in either. To the extent that religious people deprecate doubt, what they are deprecating must be indecision rather than unbelief, and what skeptics find praiseworthy in it must be not unbelief but a willingness to recognize two sides to a question. Doubt is the attitude of mind proper to the skeptic, who is by no means necessarily an unbeliever any more than a believer. The only serious reproach that either believer or unbeliever may justly direct to the skeptic is that of declining to make up his mind in one direction or the otherthat is, a moral rather than an intellectual reproach.

Modes of Doubt

Doubt may be considered in three modes: an attitude of mind, a philosophical method, and a necessary ingredient in or component of belief.

  1. The characteristic attitude both of the ancient Greek thinkers and of the Renaissance men who admired and followed them has doubt as one of its fundamental inspirations. (By attitude is meant here an inclination of the will.) That is, rather than conceiving philosophy as a way of showing this or that proposition or thesis to be such as to lead logically to a settled conviction, thinkers in this tradition insist upon an openness of mind sustained by an ongoing attitude of questioning. Even when inclining to one view or another, such thinkers will always not only pay homage to doubt as a methodological principle but will endeavor in practice to keep their minds constantly alert to the claims of both sides of every question: they will show a judicial rather than a prosecuting or defensive attitude. Such an attitude, to the extent that it is successful in terms of its own aims, is creative, engendering openness of the will as well as of the mind. Like all attitudes it is, of course, susceptible to deformity. It may be feigned, for instance, to disguise a moral unwillingness to reach a decision because of the implications of making such a commitment. That the attitude of doubt can lead to such a moral deformity or perversity is of itself, however, no argument against its salutariness or its integrity. It is an attitude that has sustained the greatest minds of all ages in human history; a notable exemplar is Socrates.
  2. Doubt as a philosophical method is exhibited in the thought of many important thinkers. Celebrated instances include Augustine and Descartes. In Augustine's dictum "Si fallor, sum " ("If I doubt, I exist") and in the well-known Cartesian formula "Cogito, ergo sum " ("I think, therefore I am") are to be found intellectual assurances that in the act of doubting one's own existence is an awareness of that existence, since if one can catch oneself doubting, one cannot be doubting that one exists and so at least one can be certain of the proposition "I exist," whatever that proposition be taken to mean. Doubt, then, is a methodological point of departure as well as an implicate of all thought. Thinking, in the sense in which it is understood in this intellectual tradition, which goes far beyond any computerlike function of the human brain, entails doubting.
  3. While both of the foregoing modes of doubt are relevant to questions of religious belief, that which most sharply illuminates an understanding of the nature of religious belief is the notion that doubt is an implicate of religious faith and therefore of the religious belief that formulates that faith. By taking the view that authentic religious faith does not entail blind, thoughtless belief but must always be accompanied by an element of doubt, we recognize that such faith and the belief that formulates it are in some way sustained by doubt, making doubt and belief as inseparable from each other as are, in the human body, the arteries and the veins. If one hopes to preserve the vigor and vivacity of one's thought, one must conserve in it the element of doubt that sustains it. Authentic religious faith, whatever it is, can never be as the schoolboy is said to have defined it: believing steadfastly what you know isn't true; instead, it must always entail doubt. Some religious philosophers in the modern existentialist tradition, such as Kierkegaard, Unamuno, and Marcel, have emphasized that a faith unshaken by doubt cannot be authentic faith at all but is a mere blind nodding without either intellectual content or moral decision. I have called faith a descant on doubt, by which I mean, of course, that it rises beyond the doubt that is at the same time its necessary presupposition: one cannot have a descant with nothing to descant upon, nor can a descant ever leave the rest of the music permanently behind it.

Contemporary religious thinkers in the tradition of Kierkegaard talk of the "leap of faith," a phrase that sometimes exasperates their hearers. How does one jump from doubt to belief without injuring, not to say destroying, the integrity of the belief? Before dealing with this vital question, we must first clarify the relation between faith and belief, more particularly as these terms arise in religious contexts.

Faith and Belief

In religious literature faith and belief often have been identified with each other. In medieval usage the Latin fides ("faith") generally means both. Even in the New Testament the distinction between the two is not entirely clear, for the Greek word pistis ("faith") often has the older connotation of intellectual conviction alongside the notion of trust, the bending of one's whole being to God in complete confidence in his infinite goodness and in his ability to guard and to guide one's entire life in the best possible way. The thirteenth-century Thomas Aquinas, who became a quasi-official spokesman of the Roman Catholic church, and even Martin Luther, leader of the sixteenth-century Reformation, when they wrote of fides, often meant intellectual assent as much as an act of the will. The classic Lutheran dogmatic treatises usually distinguished three elements in fides: notitia ("knowledge"), assensus ("assent"), and fiducia ("trust"). By this they implied that both intellect and will are involved in fides; nevertheless, following Luther himself, they recognized fiducia as the principal element and the others as subordinate to it.

In much Christian literature, however, not least among heirs of the Reformation, the term faith is invested with a volitional connotation and belief with an intellectual one. The distinction is useful, for faith has an ethical content, with implicates of courage and perseverance that are irrelevant to intellectual assent to any proposition or thesis, religious or otherwise. Nevertheless, faith also entails a metaphysical stance. The object of faith is an "is," not merely an "ought to be." It is the postulated real, so that no matter to what extent authentic faith may be called volitional rather than cognitive, an act of the will rather than an intellectual affirmation, it must be somehow connected with the intellectual activity by which it comes to be formulated. Since, as we have seen, thought itself implies doubt, every assertion of belief that is not to be dubbed mere credulity presupposes an intellectual choice between two alternative possibilities. And since, as we have seen, doubt is an implicate of belief and all authentic faith has in it an intellectual element of belief, then doubt must be called an implicate of faith, no matter how much the volitional element in faith be emphasized.

Beliefs, moreover, cannot be held in isolation: they are part of a creedal system that may be called authentic only to the extent that they are not mere uninformed opinions or thoughtless presuppositions. As soon, therefore, as we start developing either faith or reason, the question of accepting this belief and rejecting that one inevitably arises. Without the coherence that is thereby achieved, one would seen be in a position like that parodied in apothegms such as "I believe there is no God and Our Lady is his mother." So although faith is an act of the will, it must be expressed not only in a particular belief but by a whole system of beliefs, each of which is believed to illumine the others. Hence there is in the mainstream of Western theological tradition the tendency to set forth creedal statements that call for believers' assent, as does, for example, the Nicene Creed. In Indian thought and practice, by contrast, one may hold one's own view (darśana ) without repudiating that of another that seems logically incompatible with it. That attitude, however, arises from an emphasis on the inadequacy of all formulations of truth (dharma). The West, except in the more philosophical types of religious literature and in the more mystical varieties of religious experience, has been less skeptical about the capacity of religious symbols to portray the realities of the spiritual dimension of being.

Faith, although it entails an intellectual element of belief, plays a special and often misunderstood role in the Bible and therefore in all biblically oriented Jewish and Christian thought. A classic series of illustrations of the fundamental religious significance of faith is provided by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb. 11), who points to the actions of Abraham, Noah, and other biblical figures, upholding them as exemplars of the courage of those who have lived by faith. Such faith is typified in Abraham's going out "not knowing whither he went" (Heb. 11:8). It is closely akin to trust. We should note carefully, however, that although Abraham's courage may have been boundless, his ignorance was by no means absolute. He was not totally uninformed. He did not wander forth haphazardly as in a game of blindman's buff. Yet, considerable as his knowledge presumably was, his act entailed both great personal courage and a firm personal conviction that he could rely on the guidance and guardianship of God, in whom he reposed his trust and to whom he dedicated both his courage and his intelligence, using all the willpower and the knowledge at his disposal.

The "knight of faith," whom Kierkegaard depicts in Fear and Trembling, engages in a paradoxical movement that presupposes and transcends the "purely human" courage that mere renunciation of the world demands. His is a uniquely humble courage that makes him perfectly obedient to God. Faith is "the greatest and hardest" enterprise in which one can engage, entailing as it does a leap beyond even the highest ethical decisions of which anyone is capable. From all rational standpoints the leap is absurd, running counter to everything to which human wisdom directs our attention as reliable guideposts to right decision and noble action: common sense, logic, and experience. In his journals, Kierkegaard expressly asserts that "faith's conflict with the world is a battle of character. The man of faith is a person of character who, unconditionally obedient to God, grasps it as a character-task that one is not to insist upon comprehending" (Journals and Papers, vol. 2, pp. 1314). Kierkegaard was by no means an enemy of either the aesthetic or the intellectual or of the ethical life of man; his concern was to show the uniqueness of faith as a category transcending all other modes of human consciousness.

This distinctiveness that Kierkegaard saw in faith has warranty in the New Testament, from which he drew his principal inspiration. Through such faith the Christian is saved (Eph. 2:8) and made righteous in the sight of God (Rom. 5:1). Inseparable though faith is from belief, it is not to be equated with it. It has a quality that distinguishes it from every other activity of mind and will. Nevertheless, having recognized that distinctiveness, we must now explore further the relation of faith to whatever cognitive status can be assigned to belief.

Prevalent but erroneous is the notion that faith, especially in the tradition of the Protestant reformers, excludes claim to knowledge of God. Hence faith is often contrasted with sight. In the teaching of the Christian school at Alexandria, faith tended to be treated as a vestibule to knowledge, a prolegomenon to a Christian gnosis. By contrast, the reformers glorified living by faith. Yet the French reformer Calvin expressly states: "Faith consists in the knowledge of God [cognitio Dei ] and of Christ" (Institutes 3.2.5). He is not claiming knowledge of God as God is in himself (apud se ); he does mean that we know him as he is in his dealings with us (erga nos ). Faith, then, ever for so doughty a champion of its volitional character, has a cognitive element in it. Indeed, as good theologians no less than great mystics have always seen, faith yields a kind of knowledge, a gradual unfolding of awareness of God in human experience, apart from which awareness faith could not be indefinitely sustained. This awareness of that to which the name God is given is formulated in a set of beliefs that express in one way or another the stance to which faith leads the person who exercises it. Faith, practical and volitional as it is, is the means by which the knight of faith actually arrives at what he comes to call communion with (that is, entailing knowledge of) God. Just as we learn to drive or skate or play the piano less from books than by doing the thing, so through faith we arrive at the cognitive element to which it leads and is expressed in a set of beliefs.

Human knowledge is always limited and subject to revision, except in the case of mathematics, which is a closed system, a vast tautology that is indispensable as an instrument in scientific inquiry yet incapable by itself of yielding new information. Knowledge of the empirical world, based on observation and experiment, can never yield certainty. As Kant showed, we cannot know the "thing-in-itself." Doubt is therefore inseparable from all inquiry into and discoveries about the empirical world. Yet through advancement in the sciences we do have a better grasp of the world around us than did our primitive ancestors. We would not propose to go back to our forebears' view that the earth is flat with a blue dome of sky above it, but we must be prepared to doubt that our present knowledge of astronomy is irreformable and to recognize that a thousand years hence it, too, may seem primitivistic. When the knight of faith, whose adventures take him to a dimension beyond the empirical world as commonly understood, expresses his faith in a creedal statement, he can claim only a kind of knowledge. Many philosophical objections attend his claim. For instance, has he merely experienced a psychological state within himself, or has he in any sense encountered the ground of existence, the ultimate reality? Or, again, might he have encountered God through the superego of his own psyche? He can never be consistently and constantly sure; yet his faith, ever challenged by such questions, survives the challenges. When the authentic believer goes on to proclaim his belief "in" God, he is speaking from experience, as is the swimmer who says he believes "in" swimming and knows that he knows what he is talking about.

Since the knight of faith is engaged in a practical, not a theoretical, inquiry, his method, like the method of the sciences, is inductive. The inductive method used so habitually and extensively in modern science entails making hypotheses and subjecting them to tests that result in their verification or falsification. While the knight of faith cannot verify or falsify the beliefs that express his faith in the same way that the scientist tests his hypotheses, his procedure is in some important respects analogous. As the creative scientist invests his time and may stake his reputation on the eventual verification of his hypothesis, so the knight of faith stakes his life and his final destiny on his. Although he cannot hope to provide a definitive, assent-compelling verification of his faith here and now, the claim implicit in his faith is verifiable or falsifiable in the long run. Such faith entails risk. It is, as Pascal saw, a gamble; yet it is by no means a mere idle gamble, for it is informed by one's whole interpretation of life, as the scientist's hypothesis is no mere guess, but is founded on the whole range of his scientific experience and inquiry.

We have seen that in the thought of the Middle Ages faith (fides ) was generally equated with belief. The great thinkers of the thirteenth century were much more familiar with deductive methods of reasoning than with inductive ones. Despite the foundations for inductive methods that were laid by original medieval minds such as Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, and Johannes Duns Scotus, medieval science did not advance as physics, chemistry, and biology have advanced in recent times. The medieval men certainly did not lack powers of observation. They made astonishingly perceptive discoveries and invented many ingenious technological tools. They were hampered, however, by not taking seriously enough those inductive methods by which modern science has made its advances. For the same reason they tended to underestimate the meaning and power of faith as the volitional, practical, risk-taking catalyst of authentic awareness of God, apart from which both the beliefs and the doubts that spring from it must lack authenticity. This peculiar role of faith was expressed in the nineteenth century by John Henry Newman. In his Apologia pro vita sua he reports that it was not logic that carried him on any more than it is the mercury in the barometer that changes the weather: "The whole man moves; paper logic is but the record of it."

The difference between the medieval and the post-Renaissance understanding of the nature of faith may be due also, at least in part, to a general change of outlook that the Renaissance brought about in respect to the nature of man. In medieval thought the will was treated as but one of several "faculties," or powers of the soul. Such was the change wrought by the Renaissance that a tendency developed to see the will as virtually synonymous with the whole person. In this view the whole person is the agent; hence the act of faith comes to be seen more and more as an act of the will.

Belief and Knowledge

The twentieth-century philosopher Bertrand Russell, in one of his best books, Human Knowledge (London, 1948), reminds us that "all knowledge is in some degree doubtful, and we cannot say what degree of doubtfulness makes it cease to be knowledge, any more than we can say how much loss of hair makes a man bald" (p. 516). He goes on to say that all words outside mathematics and logic are vague. After pointing out that empiricism as a theory of knowledge is inadequate, though less so than any previous one, he concludes that "all human knowledge is uncertain, inexact, and partial" (p. 527).

Russell's thought on this subject represents a development of the empiricist view championed in the eighteenth century by David Hume. According to Hume all human knowledge is reducible to more or less strong beliefs. Although some modern philosophers have argued for a clear distinction between knowledge and belief, they show only that it may be convenient to dub certain very strong beliefs knowledge in order to distinguish them from other beliefs that are weak. While I may feel so certain about some be-liefs that I wish to assign to them a special place among my beliefs and so call them knowledge, I can never claim to be entirely certain that I have examined all possible alternatives, if only because I cannot know all the possible alternatives. When belief in a geocentric universe was fashionable, many must have felt confident that such a universe was demonstrable beyond a shadow of a doubt. If anyone doubted it, he could be asked to follow the movement of the sun from its rising to its setting and so be shown conclusively that the sun moved; yet that conclusion would be wrong according to today's reckoning.

For practical purposes one may choose to call one's strongest beliefs knowledge, but it can never be knowledge in the sense of an infallible grasp of truth or an acquaintance with reality. Even to say "I know I am in pain" is not an exception since it adds nothing to saying "I am in pain." If I did not know myself to be in pain, I could not be in pain; and if I were in pain, I could not have neglected to notice it. Of course I feel pain; but to say "I know" is to claim knowledge of what pain is, and this I cannot properly claim. Nor could such a claim to know result in any objective knowledge at all. As my friend you would presumably trust my word; nevertheless, you would be entitled to disbelieve me. John Austin in his essay "Other Minds" (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, supp. vol. 20, 1946) recognized this by pointing out that saying "I know" registers the highest possible cognitive claim in a form that authorizes someone to rely on the statement, so that it functions in a way similar to "I promise." Thus the claim to know is no more than a strident way of asserting a particular belief.

It is one thing to contend that everyone has the right to be sure of his beliefs; it is another thing to affirm that the beliefs are justified as claims to knowledge. By claiming to know, I would claimjudiciously or rashlyto have no doubt. If I affirm that something is a known fact, I am contending that no one has any need or any right to doubt it. No alleged facts, however, can be said to be so indubitable, and none, therefore, is so indisputable. When in creedal statements such as the Nicene Creed or the so-called Apostles' Creed we use the traditional "I believe" or "We believe," we exhibit the characteristically religious disposition of openness and its implication of the possibility of doubt. This doubt may be transcended by faith, yet the faith is meaningless apart from it. Perceptive, then, was the poet Alfred Tennyson's observation that more faith lives in honest doubt than "in half the creeds"; for unless the believer's affirmation recognizes the possibility of doubt, his faith has no vitality. The absence of doubt is the height of irreligion. Both the will to believe, which the psychologist and philosopher William James popularized in the late nineteenth century, and the will to doubt, which Bertrand Russell said he would prefer to preach, are necessary for a lively faith. When the authentic believer says "I believe," he omits a hidden qualifier"Nevertheless, I believe." For if there can be nothing (outside the tautologies of logic and mathematics) that justifies a claim to certainty, then doubt is proper to every belief. Authentic belief does not sidestep doubt. On the contrary, when one seriously intends to live by faith, one does not at all claim that the formulation of that faith is adequate or irreformable.

Nihilism and Certainty

The role of doubt in belief can be clarified by a glance at two extremes: nihilism and certainty. Nihilism (from the Latin nihil, "nothing") consists in the dogmatic tendency to deny not only the existence of God but the permanence of any entity. According to such a view one can therefore say nothing that is absolutely true of anything since no claims to truth have any objective grounds. A classical exponent of nihilism in its intellectual aspect is Gorgias in Plato's dialogue of that name. In contrast to the earlier philosopher Protagoras, who held that "man is the measure of all things" (i.e., truth is relative to persons and circumstances), Plato's Gorgias taught that there can be no truth at all. On the practical or ethical side the nihilist denies all "higher" and "objective" values. In the nineteenth century the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche held that the interpretation of existence that Christianity bequeathed to Europe was fundamentally a life-negating pessimism. A particular form of nihilism emerged in Russia. Mikhail Bakunin (18141876) taught that society's only hope lies in its destruction, while, even more radically, Dmitrii Pisarev (18401868) taught that society is so evil that its destruction is a good in itself. Existentialism, by contrast, is not necessarily nihilistic, although some forms of it (e.g., those of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus) have nihilistic elements in them.

Certainty is a peculiarly difficult concept. After the Renaissance, John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume all paved the way for Kant's demonstration that we can have no certain knowledge of the "thing-in-itself." Noteworthy is the fact that down to the present century the papal index of prohibited books included these writers only in respect to those of their works that cast doubt on the possibility of certain knowledge. Although from Augustine to Thomas the medieval thinkers had discussed the conditions of certain knowledge, all of them held that at least some kind of knowledge is possible. Otherwise, how else could one know, for instance, that God exists? Modern thinkers, however, have generally been reluctant to recognize the possibility of absolute certainty except in the realm of logical and mathematical relationships that are (as we have seen) tautologies. Russell distinguished three kinds of claims to certainty: (1) logical, or mathematical, certaintyfor example, if we grant that man is a rational animal, we may be certain that by implication man is an animal; (2) epistemological certainty, according to which a proposition is credible in the highest degree as a result of the abundance of evidence adduced for itfor example, we can be certain that the earth moves around the sun; and (3) psychological certainty, which occurs when a person merely feels no doubt about the truth of a propositionfor example, if after having known you for two minutes I were to say, "I am an excellent judge of people, and I know for certain that you are not to be trusted."

The Role of Doubt in Authentic Faith and Belief

Superficial critics of religion tend to ask, "How genuine is the believer's belief?" Such a question never yieldsnor could it ever yieldany satisfactory answer. The questioner, having taken care to steer between the Scylla of nihilism and the Charybdis of a claim to certainty, would more fruitfully formulate the question by asking, "How genuine is the doubt behind the belief?" For when a believer says, "In spite of x, I believe y," that which is most likely to determine the significance of y is knowledge of the content to be assigned to x.

Doubt is a profound expression of humility. Without the humility that is and always has been at the root of all creative philosophical and scientific inquiry from Socrates onward, pretensions to religious faith are shown for what they are: at best a caricature, at worst a mockery, of religion. For humility is not only the virtue that corresponds to the vice of pridewhich according to the teachings of all the great religions of the world is the fundamental obstacle to spiritual perceptivity; it is also closely connected with love, which is in Christian teaching the spring of all virtues. So faith and love respectively have as their implicates doubt and humility. If humility be radical enough it can become the best means of access to God, who "resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (Jas. 4:6). We may also say with E.-Alexis Preyre that "the man whom doubt, pushed to its extreme consequences, has led to total indetermination may 'find' God or not. But if he find God, the faith of that man is immovable" (À l'extrême du scepticisme, Paris, 1947, p. 168).

Laughter is likewise relevant to the spirit of humility and doubt. To be able to laugh at oneself is surely the hallmark of humility. Neither the religious fanatic nor the antireligious propagandist is likely to be able to do so, and so neither can ever laugh lovingly about religion. The mirth that springs from self-forgetfulness is a potent instrument in the attainment of religious insight, for it springs from deep humility and a childlike love that have matured into intellectual openness and awe before the mystery of being. That is impossible apart from doubt.

Faith, to have any value at all, emerges in personal encounter with divine being: "Scio cui credidi " ("I know whom I have believed"; 2 Tm. 1:12). In childhood we learn to trust those who surround us with love. In due course we discover that, like all human beings, they, too, have their limitations. The deeply religious person, however, claims to have encountered the being in whom alone such trust may be placed without reserve, and so such a person sets no limits on the faith that issues from the encounter. What such a person may and should question is what precisely the encounter signifies and how it is to be interpreted. If the faith does not entail any doubt at all, surely it is a straw in the wind.

Moreover, without a willingness to doubt, religious tolerance is impossible. True, religious tolerance is not in itself the mark of authentic faith, for it may spring from mere indifference to or ignorance of the cardinal issues of the religious consciousness; but a faith that is fundamentally intolerant of any expressions of religion other than its own merely reveals its lack of confidence and the trivial nature of its thrust. Genuinely religious persons, whatever their beliefs, are always thoroughly impressed by the mystery of faith. The tendency to explain rather than to contemplate mystery is the vice of much popular, institutional religion and has immensely contributed to the disunity of Christendom as well as to the maintenance of barriers between one religion and another. The apocalyptic literature of religion unfolds the presence of mystery; it does not purport to explain it. Genuine religion is always full of wonder and therefore full of doubt, while irreligion is wonderless. With wonderless belief the devotee can offer only wonderless love, which is tantamount to blasphemy since it entails a casualness such as one might properly express in saying, for instance, "Of course I love candy, doesn't everyone?" Such religion, shorn of doubt, lacking humility, and therefore loveless, surely reveals its own ignorance and depravity, for it expresses a mere narcissistic looking at oneself in a mirror rather than an outpouring of love to the source and ground of being, apart from which religion is indeed vain.

See Also

Enlightenment, The; Epistemology; Existentialism; Faith; Intuition; Knowledge and Ignorance; Logical Positivism; Philosophy, articles on Philosophy and Religion, Philosophy of Religion; Skeptics and Skepticism; Truth.


The classic source on doubt as a philosophical method is René Descartes's Discourse on Method (especially part 3). For a discussion of a "doubtful faith" that can partake of rational checks and balances yet allow beliefs that go beyond theoretical knowledge, see Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment (especially section 91). Another classical treatment of the nature of belief is Blaise Pascal's Pensées. Søren Kierkegaard's singularly important perceptions on doubt and belief are scattered throughout his works, but especially important are his Journals and Papers, 7 vols., edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, assisted by Gregor Malantschuk (Bloomington, Ind., 19671978) and his Either/Or, 2 vols., translated by David F. Swenson, Lillian M. Swenson, and Walter Lowrie, with revisions and foreword by Howard A. Johnson (Princeton, 1959). John Henry Newman discusses belief in terms of an "illative" sense in An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870; reprint, with an introduction by Étienne Gilson, New York, 1955) and in his Apologia pro vita sua, 2d ed. (1865; reprint, New York, 1964). On the meaninglessness of "radical" doubt, see G. E. Moore's "The Refutation of Idealism," reprinted in Philosophical Studies (London, 1922); "A Defence of Common Sense," in Philosophical Papers (New York, 1959); and Some Main Problems of Philosophy (New York, 1953), especially chapter 1. Frederick R. Tennant's theory of belief and faith is expounded in his Philosophical Theology, 2 vols. (Cambridge, U.K., 1928), especially volume 1, chapter 11, and in his The Nature of Belief (London, 1943), especially chapter 6. Martin C. D'Arcy, S.J., in The Nature of Belief (London, 1931), gives an account consonant with the Thomist tradition. Also important are Dorothy Emmet's The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking (London, 1945) and John Hick's Faith and Knowledge, 2d ed. (Ithaca, N.Y., 1966). In several of my books, notably Christian Doubt (London, 1951) and God beyond Doubt (Philadelphia, 1966), I have discussed faith as a descant on doubt.

New Sources

Bookchin, Murray. Re-Enchanting Humanity: A Defense of the Human Spirit against Anti-humanism, Misanthropy, Mysticism and Primitivism. London, 1995.

Gellner, Ernest. Reason and Culture: The Historic Role of Rationality and Rationalism. Malden, Mass., 1992.

Gratzer, Walter. The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-Deception, and Human Frailty. New York, 2000.

Howard-Snyder, Daniel, and Paul Moser, eds. Divine Hiddenness: New Essays. New York, 2002.

Kitcher, Philip. The Advancement of Science without Legend; Objectivity without Illusions. New York, 1993.

Shermer, Michael. How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science. New York, 1999.

Wilson, A. N. God's Funeral: The Decline of Faith in Western Civilization. New York, 1999.

Wilson, David Sloan. Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society. Chicago, 2002.

Geddes MacGregor (1987)

Revised Bibliography