Doubt: Wikis


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"Doubts", Henrietta Rae, 1886

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. Some definitions of doubt emphasize the state in which the mind remains suspended between two contradictory propositions and unable to assent to either of them[1] (compare paradox).

The concept of doubt covers a range of phenomena: one can characterise both deliberate questioning of uncertainties and an emotional state of indecision as "doubt".

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, 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 available evidence.


Psychoanalysts At times 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 in general associates "excessive" doubt with obsessive-compulsive disorder, sometimes nicknamed a "disease of doubt".


Descartes employed Cartesian doubt as a pre-eminent methodological tool in his fundamental philosophical investigations. It has been suggestsed that Descartes' ideas in his Discourse on the Method may show the influence of the work of Al-Ghazali ("Algazel" to the West), whose method of doubting shares many similarities with Descartes' method.[2][3] 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.


Doubt that god(s) exist may form the basis of agnosticism — the belief that one cannot determine the existence of god(s). It may also form or affect the basis of atheism, which can entail either not believing in god(s) or believing that no god(s) exist(s). Alternatively, doubt over the existence of god(s) may lead to acceptance of a particular religion: compare Pascal's Pensées. Doubt of a specific religion, scripturally or deistically, may bring into question the truth of that religion's set of beliefs. On the other hand, doubt as to some religious 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 similar) churches.

Christianity often debates 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.

Doubt as a path towards (deeper) religious faith lies at the heart of the story of Saint Thomas the Apostle. Note in this respect the theological views of Georg Hermes:

... the starting-point and chief principle of every science, and hence of theology also, is not only methodical doubt, but positive doubt. One can believe only what one has perceived to be true from reasonable grounds, and consequently one must have the courage to continue doubting until one has found reliable grounds to satisfy the reason.[4]

Christian existentialists such as Søren Kierkegaard suggest that for one to truly have faith in God, one would also have to doubt one's beliefs about God; the doubt is the rational part of a person's thought involved in weighing evidence, without which the faith would have no real substance. Faith is not a decision based on evidence that, say, certain beliefs about God are true or a certain person is worthy of love. No such evidence could ever be enough to pragmatically justify the kind of total commitment involved in true religious faith or romantic love. Faith involves making that commitment anyway. Kierkegaard thought that to have faith is at the same time to have doubt.[5][6]


Most criminal cases within an adversarial system require that the prosecution proves its contentions beyond a reasonable doubt — a doctrine also called the "Burden of Proof". This means that the State must present propositions which preclude "reasonable doubt" in the mind of a reasonable person as to the guilt of defendant. Some doubt may persist, but only to the extent that it would not affect a "reasonable person's" belief in the defendant's guilt. If the doubt raised does affect a "reasonable person's" belief, the jury is not satisfied beyond a "reasonable doubt". The jurisprudence of the applicable jurisdiction usually defines the precise meaning of words such as "reasonable" and "doubt" for such purposes.

See also



  1. ^ See for example: Sharpe, Alfred. "Doubt". The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 5 (New York: Robert Appleton). Retrieved 2008-10-21. "A state in which the mind is suspended between two contradictory propositions and unable to assent to either of them."  
  2. ^ Najm, Sami M. (July-October 1966), "The Place and Function of Doubt in the Philosophies of Descartes and Al-Ghazali", Philosophy East and West 16 (3-4): 133–41  
  3. ^ George Henry Lewes, The Biographical History of Philosophy from Its Origin in Greece Down to the Present Day Part Two, New York: D. Appleton and Company, p. 863
  4. ^ Schulte, Karl Joseph (1910). "George Hermes". The Catholic Encyclopedia. 7. New York: Robert Appleton. Retrieved 2008-10-21.  
  5. ^ Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, ed. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, v. 1, Princeton University Press, 1992, pp. 21–57
  6. ^ Soren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers, trans. Hong and Malantschuk, p.399.


  • 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. ISBN 0-06-009795-7.   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.


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Doubt is uncertainty in the context of trust, action, decision or belief. It implies challenging some notion of reality in effect.



  • If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.
    • Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning (1605), Book I, v, 8.
  • Is God fair? The Christians say that God damns forever anyone who is skeptical about truth of bunkistic religion as revealed unto the holy haranguers. What this means is that a God, if any, punishes a man for using his reason. If there is a God in existence, reasons should be available for his existence. Assuming that such a precious thing as a man's eternal future depends on his belief in a God, then the materials for that belief should be overwhelming and not at all doubtful. Yet here is a man whose reason makes it impossible for him to believe in a God. He sees no evidence of such an entity. He finds all the arguments weak and worthless. He doubts and he denies. Then is a God fair in visiting upon such a skeptic the penalty for his inevitable intellectual attitude? The intelligent man refuses to believe fairy tales. Can a God blame him? If so, then a God is not as fair as an ordinarily decent man. And fairness, we think, is more important than piety.
  • Doubt, indeed, is the disease of this inquisitive, restless age. It is the price we pay for our advanced intelligence and civilization. It is the dim night of our resplendent day. But as the most beautiful light is born of darkness, so the faith which springs from conflict is often the strongest and the best.
  • Doubt is for the dying.
    • Imperial Guard, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
  • I may be wrong, and often am, but I never doubt.
    • Sir George Jessel, said to Lord Coleridge, in response to the question, "Have you no doubts about it, Jessel?", asked with regard to Jessel's judgment as to the Alabama claims. When later asked about the truth of the story, Jessel replied, "very likely, but Coleridge with his Constitutional inaccuracy has told it wrong. I can never have said 'often wrong'". Reported in Robert Q. Kelly and Frederic D. Donnelly, The Law Library: Proceedings, Sixth Biennial A.A.L.L. Institute for Law Librarians (1964) p. 51.
  • To have doubted one's own first principles is the mark of a civilized man.
  • To rest upon a formula is a slumber that, prolonged, means death.
  • All doubt is cowardice — all trust is brave.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • Doubt comes in at the window when inquiry is denied at the door.
  • You ask bitterly, like Pontius Pilate, "What is truth?" In such an hour what remains? I reply, "Obedience." Leave those thoughts for the present. Act — be merciful and gentle — honest; force yourself to abound in little services; try to do good to others; be true in the duty that you know. That must be right, whatever else is uncertain. And by all the laws of the human heart, by the word of God, you shall not be left to doubt. Do that much of the will of God which is plain to you, and "You shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God."
  • To get rid of your doubts, part with your sin. Put away your intemperance, your dishonesty, your unlawful ways of making money, your sensuality, your falsehood, acted or spoken, and see if a holy life be not the best disperser of unwelcome doubts, and new obedience the most certain guide to fresh assurance.
    • James Hamilton, p. 195.
  • Fear not to confront realities. The Saviour lives; and the first joy that you will give to Him is when, leaving off your false excuses, you throw yourself with a full heart and empty hands into His arms of mercy. The Saviour lives; and were you now to die looking for salvation only from that Friend of Sinners, verily this day should you be with Him in a better than Adam's paradise. The Saviour lives; and in full sympathy with that wondrous lover of men's souls, the Holy Spirit is even now ready if besought to begin His sanctifying process in your mind. The Saviour lives; and even now He stretches out toward you an arm which, if you only grasp in thankful love, your faith shall strengthen while you cling, and it will be from no weakness in that arm, if you are not erelong exalted to a point of holy attainment which at this moment you view with despair, and by and by to that region of unveiled realities where you will ask in wonder at yourself, "Wherefore did I doubt?"
    • James Hamilton, p. 196.
  • Cold hearts are not anxious enough to doubt. Men who love will have their misgivings at times; that is not the evil. But the evil is, when men go on in that languid, doubting way, content to doubt, proud of their doubts, morbidly glad to talk about them, liking the romantic gloom of twilight, without the manliness to say, "I must and will know the truth." That did not John the Baptist. Brethren, John appealed to Christ.
  • People, when asked if they are Christians, give some of the strangest answers you ever heard. Some will say if you ask them: "Well — well — well, I, — I hope I am." Suppose a man should ask me if I am an American. Would I say: "Well, I — well, I — I hope I am?"


  • An all encompassing uncertainty on the part of any individual is either a sign of utter stupidity or extreme intelligence. Only the not so dumb, or the not so smart, are ever certain about anything.
  • Another meme of the religious meme complex is called faith. It means blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence. The story of Doubting Thomas is told, not so that we shall admire Thomas, but so that we can admire the other apostles in comparison. Thomas demanded evidence. Nothing is more lethal for certain kinds of meme than a tendency to look for evidence. The other apostles, whose faith was so strong that they did not need evidence, are held up to us as worthy of imitation. The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.
  • Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declare even doubt to be a sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature - is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned.
  • Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
  • Doubt everything. Find your own light.
  • There is order in chaos, and certainty in doubt. The wise are guided by this order and certainty.
  • Fear believes - courage doubts. Fear falls upon the earth and prays - courage stands erect and thinks. Fear is barbarism - courage is civilization. Fear believes in witchcraft, in devils and in ghosts. Fear is religion, courage is science.
  • I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know the answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten me.
  • I respect faith, but doubt is what gives you an education.
  • I slept with Faith, and found a corpse in my arms on awaking; I drank and danced all night with Doubt, and found her a virgin in the morning.
  • I will not attack your doctrines nor your creeds if they accord liberty to me. If they hold thought to be dangerous - if they aver that doubt is a crime, then I attack them one and all, because they enslave the minds of men.
  • If you cannot examine your thoughts, you have no choice but to think them, however silly they may be.
  • It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.
  • It is the things for which there is no evidence that are believed with passion. Nobody feels any passion about the multiplication table or about the existence of Cape Horn, because these matters are not doubtful. But in matters of theology or political theory, where a rational man will hold that at best there is a slight balance of probability on one side or the other, people argue with passion and support their opinions by physical slavery imposed by armies and mental slavery imposed by schools.
  • Men become civilized not in proportion to their willingness to believe but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.
  • The believer is happy; the doubter is wise.
    • Hungarian proverb
  • The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom. Skepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom. The modern world is the child of doubt and inquiry, as the ancient world was the child of fear and faith.
  • William James used to preach the 'will to believe.' For my part, I should wish to preach the 'will to doubt.' ... What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
  • "Doubt fucks everything. Take a foundation, no matter how strong, sprinkle generously with doubt, and watch it crumble. Me? I'm unfuckwithable. Not this knee, not bad weather, and certainly not the many men that wish bad intentions on me can stop me."

See also

External links

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Look up doubt in Wiktionary, the free dictionary

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

by Sara Teasdale
From Love Songs Part III

My soul lives in my body's house,
      And you have both the house and her --
But sometimes she is less your own
      Than a wild, gay adventurer;
A restless and an eager wraith,
      How can I tell what she will do --
Oh, I am sure of my body's faith,
      But what if my soul broke faith with you?

PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1933, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Simple English

Doubt is a feeling between belief and disbelief.


Why is your heart so full of doubt?

Does he like me? I doubt it

I doubt you even know what i'm talking about

Other pages

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The English Wiktionary has dictionary definitions (meanings of a word) for:

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