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Reply Thu 19 Feb, 2009 02:24 am
67 - Doubt and Skepticism
P:SWK, Pages 254-258

These collections of quotes highlight Kierkegaard's dissatisfaction of the skeptical tradition. Here are some of the quotes:
Quote:

Since Descartes, skeptics don't dare express anything definite with regards to knowledge. Yet they dare to act, and in this respect are satisfied with probability. What an enormous contradiction! As if it were not far more dreadful to do something about which one is doubtful (thereby incurring responsibility) than to assert an idea. Or is it because the ethical is in itself certain? But then there is something that doubt cannot reach!
Quote:

The method of beginning with doubt in order to philosophize seems as appropriate as having a soldier slouch in order to get him to stand erect.

Quote:

If you suffer because you do good, because you are in the right, because your are loving; if it is because you are for a good cause that you live despised, persecuted, ridiculed, in poverty, then you will find that you do not doubt Christ's resurrection. Why? Because you need it.
Quote:

A conviction is called a conviction because it is over and above proof. Proof is given for a mathematical proposition in such a way that no disproof is conceivable. For that reason there can be no conviction with respect to mathematics. But as far as every existential proposition is concerned, for every proof there is some disproof, there is a pro and a contra. The person of conviction is not ignorant of this; he knows full well what doubt is able to assert: a contra. For that very reason he is a person of conviction, because he has made a resolution and voluntarily raises himself higher than the logical manoeuvres of proofs and is convinced.

It is probably this attitude that some critics label Kierkegaard an anti-philosopher, if the meaning of a philosopher is that one must doubt everything. Here Kierkegaard puts his foot down and doubts the claim that one must doubt everything.

The first quote is classic Kierkegaard. The skeptics introduce the conundrum about how can we ever know anything for sure, and then calls home to tell the wife to order a deluxe pizza for dinner. For Kierkegaard, there must be eventually be a time for human beings to just stop doubting and go for it. Life's too short to doubt.

Conviction, in the fourth quote, is also Kierkegaard at his best. Here, he again separates mathematics and the objective sciences from matters of existence and humanity. When it comes to existence, there is a disproof for every proof. There must be a time when you have made up your mind to marry her. She has her flaws, like you and every other person, but must you stop the doubts and be convinced marry her! [P.S. Kierkegaard wasn't a person of conviction.]
 
ACB
 
Reply Fri 14 Aug, 2009 04:45 am
@Victor Eremita,
Thanks for the quotes. My comments are as follows:

Quote 1 - Circumstances often force us to act, so we then have to be satisfied with probability and hope for the best. But we can philosophise at our leisure, so we then have an intellectual responsibility to be thorough and acknowledge any doubts. And no, the ethical is not certain; we sometimes change our ethical intuitions.

Quote 2 - I would prefer the analogy of a soldier emptying his kit-bag and then re-packing it to make sure everything is present and stowed correctly.

Quote 3 - A nice piece of rhetoric, but manifestly untrue in many cases, especially when applied to non-Christians.

Quote 4 - This does not explain why conviction is a good thing, or why it is 'above' logic.

Decisiveness is good in practical life, but bad in philosophy.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 14 Aug, 2009 06:25 am
@ACB,
ACB;83183 wrote:
Thanks for the quotes. My comments are as follows:

Quote 1 - Circumstances often force us to act, so we then have to be satisfied with probability and hope for the best. But we can philosophise at our leisure, so we then have an intellectual responsibility to be thorough and acknowledge any doubts. And no, the ethical is not certain; we sometimes change our ethical intuitions.

Quote 2 - I would prefer the analogy of a soldier emptying his kit-bag and then re-packing it to make sure everything is present and stowed correctly.

Quote 3 - A nice piece of rhetoric, but manifestly untrue in many cases, especially when applied to non-Christians.

Quote 4 - This does not explain why conviction is a good thing, or why it is 'above' logic.

Decisiveness is good in practical life, but bad in philosophy.



Actually, I agree with the OP, and so did C.S. Peirce (the American philosopher who founded pragmatism). He wrote that, "You should not doubt in philosophy what you do not doubt in your heart". He also called Cartesian doubt, "sham doubt", and, "paper doubt". Peirce also argued that no one can begin with complete doubt, since in order to doubt anything, you have to believe something else. For example that you might be dreaming, or that there might be an Evil Genius, or that your eyes might be deceiving you.
 
ACB
 
Reply Fri 14 Aug, 2009 08:44 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;83208 wrote:
Actually, I agree with the OP, and so did C.S. Peirce (the American philosopher who founded pragmatism). He wrote that, "You should not doubt in philosophy what you do not doubt in your heart". He also called Cartesian doubt, "sham doubt", and, "paper doubt". Peirce also argued that no one can begin with complete doubt, since in order to doubt anything, you have to believe something else. For example that you might be dreaming, or that there might be an Evil Genius, or that your eyes might be deceiving you.


Where is the boundary between Cartesian doubt and real doubt? Can I rule out the possibility that I will today be struck by a meteorite, or by lightning? Can the limit of real doubt be quantified in terms of probability?
 
richrf
 
Reply Fri 14 Aug, 2009 09:02 am
@ACB,
Hi,

Thanks for the post.

I find life is very similar to our depiction of light (quanta). Just probabilities (wave) and the POP!, there is a decision - something materializes. Duality.

I don't think it is a matter of being either or.

Constant doubt leads to no movement and stagnation. Constant certainty also leads to no movement and stagnation - and conflict with others who are equally certain but in a different way.

Doubt followed by decision creates movement. In this way and then that way. That is how a good captain navigates a ship. Always observing and making decisions on what direction to take.

So we have Doubt and the POP! we have decision (Free Will). It seems to work perfectly.

Rich
 
mickalos
 
Reply Fri 14 Aug, 2009 09:56 am
@richrf,
I think the fourth quote is the most interesting with regards to scepticism, but I think it misses the mark. It doesn't matter how strongly we believe ourselves to be right in a particular belief; if the belief is false, or we come to believe it in a certain way that most people deem unacceptable (e.g. lucky guessing), we wouldn't normally call it knowledge, no matter how much conviction somebody had in it.

I'm also unsure that it is necessary to separate mathematical truths in most circumstances. For example, I know that when divided by four all odd primes give a remainder of either 3 or 1, and all the primes that give a remainder of 1 can be expressed as the sum of two squares, while none of the primes that give a remainder of 3 can be expressed in this way. This is Fermat's two square theorem, and it has indeed been proven by a number of mathematicians, but I cannot prove it, and if you put a proof in front of me it is unlikely that I would understand it. Nevertheless, I know the theorem to be true.

The best argument against scepticism, I think, is that proof, in the mathematical sense, is not a necessary condition for knowledge. When I wave my hand in front of my face, I know 'here is a hand'. The sceptic's suggestion that I might be dreaming is, I suppose, a logically consistent possibility, but I still do not doubt 'here is a hand'.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 14 Aug, 2009 10:53 am
@ACB,
ACB;83240 wrote:
Where is the boundary between Cartesian doubt and real doubt? Can I rule out the possibility that I will today be struck by a meteorite, or by lightning? Can the limit of real doubt be quantified in terms of probability?


Real doubt has some connection to behavior. I don't really doubt the existence of a vase and a table when I firmly grasp the vase, and place it firmly on the table. In addition. there has to be a good reason for doubting. It is not as if you can just decide to doubt. And then, as I have already pointed out, if I have a reason for doubting, then I, at least provisionally, believe that reason to be true. Being able to start from absolute scratch is a fantasy.
After all, even Descartes recognized how distant his use of "doubt" was from the normal use of that term. Descartes called his "doubt", "hyperbolic doubt", and, "metaphysical doubt". In fact, it was a "doubt" that was compatible with belief, since he assured the Theologians and Philosophers of the Sorbonne (in his letter to them which forms the preface to his Meditations, that he, Descartes, believes there is a God, and an external world. Imagine, doubting and believing the same thing, at the same time!
 
richrf
 
Reply Fri 14 Aug, 2009 11:49 am
@mickalos,
mickalos;83253 wrote:
When I wave my hand in front of my face, I know 'here is a hand'. The sceptic's suggestion that I might be dreaming is, I suppose, a logically consistent possibility, but I still do not doubt 'here is a hand'.


When my father first contracted Alzheimer's, he called me on the phone and insisted my mother (he was divorced) was under his bed. At the time, I didn't know what was happening. He insisted, in a very real way, that he was looking at my mother. But I could understand how that could be, even though he was there and I was here. No way to refute or confirm it. But he was very, very certain.

We always have no doubts about what we see ... but what does it mean if we see something that no one else sees? We (I) have no doubts!

Rich
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 14 Aug, 2009 01:29 pm
@mickalos,
mickalos;83253 wrote:

The best argument against scepticism, I think, is that proof, in the mathematical sense, is not a necessary condition for knowledge. When I wave my hand in front of my face, I know 'here is a hand'. The sceptic's suggestion that I might be dreaming is, I suppose, a logically consistent possibility, but I still do not doubt 'here is a hand'.



It really depends on what it is your skeptic is denying. If your skeptic is denying that you are absolutely certain, so that mistake is impossible, that there is a hand in front of you, then he is right, since it is not impossible that you are dreaming. But, if your skeptic is denying not that you are absolutely certain there is a hand in front of you, but that you know that there is a hand in front of you, then your skeptic is wrong, since it is not true that you are dreaming. You are not certain if it is possible that you are mistaken, but you do not know only if you are not mistaken.
 
ACB
 
Reply Fri 14 Aug, 2009 02:06 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;83285 wrote:
you do not know only if you are not mistaken.


Yes you do. You cannot know a thing that you are mistaken about. I think you meant "you do not know only if you are certain you are not mistaken".
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 14 Aug, 2009 03:40 pm
@ACB,
ACB;83300 wrote:
Yes you do. You cannot know a thing that you are mistaken about. I think you meant "you do not know only if you are certain you are not mistaken".


No. I did not mean that. I meant that I cannot know p, unless p is true. I don't have to be certain I am not mistaken in order not to be mistaken. Just as I don't have to be certain that I have been checkmated in order to be checkmated. If I satisfy the conditions of being checkmated, then, I am checkmated. And if I satisfy the conditions of knowing, then, I know. I no more have to be certain I satisfy the condition of knowing in order to know, than I need to be certain I satisfy the conditions of being checkmated in order to be checkmated.

I think we discussed this before, and that you had agreed with me then.
 
ACB
 
Reply Fri 14 Aug, 2009 04:56 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;83308 wrote:
No. I did not mean that. I meant that I cannot know p, unless p is true. I don't have to be certain I am not mistaken in order not to be mistaken. Just as I don't have to be certain that I have been checkmated in order to be checkmated. If I satisfy the conditions of being checkmated, then, I am checkmated. And if I satisfy the conditions of knowing, then, I know. I no more have to be certain I satisfy the condition of knowing in order to know, than I need to be certain I satisfy the conditions of being checkmated in order to be checkmated.

I think we discussed this before, and that you had agreed with me then.


Yes, that is exactly what I thought you meant to say, and I agree. (But the last 10 words of your post #9 appear to say otherwise.)
 
Victor Eremita
 
Reply Sat 22 Aug, 2009 02:03 am
@ACB,
ACB;83183 wrote:

Decisiveness is good in practical life, but bad in philosophy.


Kierkegaard couldn't agree with you more.
 
Victor Eremita
 
Reply Mon 24 Aug, 2009 01:30 am
@ACB,
ACB;83183 wrote:
Thanks for the quotes. My comments are as follows:

Quote 1 - Circumstances often force us to act, so we then have to be satisfied with probability and hope for the best. But we can philosophise at our leisure, so we then have an intellectual responsibility to be thorough and acknowledge any doubts. And no, the ethical is not certain; we sometimes change our ethical intuitions.



We must act eventually, yes. SK just doesn't like the skeptical tradition encroaching on our personal lives or way of living.

The ethical applies to all, otherwise it's not ethical.

Quote:

Quote 2 - I would prefer the analogy of a soldier emptying his kit-bag and then re-packing it to make sure everything is present and stowed correctly.


Very good counter-analogy!

Quote:

Quote 3 - A nice piece of rhetoric, but manifestly untrue in many cases, especially when applied to non-Christians.


Kierkegaard was also a poet and theologian, so yea he does the rhetoric a lot!

Quote:

Quote 4 - This does not explain why conviction is a good thing, or why it is 'above' logic.


For Kierkegaard, conviction is something we human beings possess; logic is "objective", it's not special to any one person. Conviction is "above" logic for us in the sense that relate to different things in different ways; logic must relate to same thing in precisely the same way; Through logic, there's no other way to relate to it. But conviction, ah... how do YOU relate to it? For Kierkegaard, that's the important question FOR YOU.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 24 Aug, 2009 03:29 am
@ACB,
ACB;83300 wrote:
Yes you do. You cannot know a thing that you are mistaken about. I think you meant "you do not know only if you are certain you are not mistaken".


No, I meant what I said. If you know, then you are not mistaken. You don't have to be certain. After all. I know that Quito is the capital of Ecuador, but I could be mistaken, of course, since I am not infallible. But, I am not mistaken. Happily, a person need not be infallible to know. Otherwise, no one could ever claim to know anything.
 
ACB
 
Reply Mon 24 Aug, 2009 06:37 am
@ACB,
Kennethamy - I can only repeat:

ACB;83327 wrote:
Yes, that is exactly what I thought you meant to say, and I agree. (But the last 10 words of your post #9 appear to say otherwise.)
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Mon 24 Aug, 2009 07:52 am
@Victor Eremita,
Victor Eremita;49649 wrote:

The first quote is classic Kierkegaard. The skeptics introduce the conundrum about how can we ever know anything for sure, and then calls home to tell the wife to order a deluxe pizza for dinner. For Kierkegaard, there must be eventually be a time for human beings to just stop doubting and go for it. Life's too short to doubt.


The way I think of it, we all have experience with action without doubt. Most fundamentally, this is reflex. If I step on a nail, I will jump to the other foot. Amazingly, this action doesn't arise from the motor cortex, but from the spine itself. I was once driving in heavy traffic and we all came to an oily patch on a concrete highway. The cars started spinning around going 60 mph. I remember vaguely a feeling of physics. But I can testify that I didn't decide to head for traction on the berm and get out of the way of the cars behind me. It all happened too fast for any reflection... weighing the options... doubting that the road is actually there.

On a larger scale, action without doubt can be freaky. When John Brown, sure that he was in communication with God, launched an attack on the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, he altered the course of history in a way that Americans would tend to agree was beneficial. But if you'd known John Brown at the time, what would you think?

I believe that George W. Bush recently exhibited the same kind of phenomenon. I believe that he supported an attack on Iraq because he saw himself as being in communication with God. In doing so, he was not outside the framework of the Constitution. The Constitution allows the president to operate reflexively during crisis... in other words without contemplation, reflection and doubt (symbolized by congress.) It's freaky.. frightening... even horrifiying when this aspect of us arises, because we know it's behavior that is beyond the control of reason. We can only have faith that things will turn out well. But then, so far, my relexes haven't failed me. I doubt that they're infallible, though.

You say Kierkegaard wasn't a man of conviction. It seems his efforts to become such had the side-effect of producing some of the most awe inspiring works of philosophy. Was this not his underlying intention, though? I've always assumed that at some level of his being he knew he was creating a crucible for himself.
 
 

 
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