The Doubt Theory Of Knowledge Philosophy Essay

“Doubt is the key to Knowledge” (Persian Proverb). To what extent is this true in two areas of knowledge?

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What is Doubt and what is knowledge? Personally, I believe Knowledge is anything and everything that we perceive, understand via our Ways of Knowing such as Sense Perception, Reasons and Emotions and that is justified. Doubt is anything that provokes our mind to question what we perceive thus activating our thought process towards the attainment of Knowledge. Where Doubt gives us a feeling of uncertainty, Knowledge gives us a feeling of certainty. Thus, it is so observed that these conflicting emotions yield a productive solution, Satisfaction. They seem to be in accordance with the Chinese concept of Yin – Yang, which is used to describe how “polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected, interdependent and antipodes in the natural world” [1] . Thus Doubt and Knowledge are analogous to the Yin and Yang; giving rise to each other in turn, in an infinitesimal process.

The physical nature of light was a debate amongst Physicists for a pretty long time and J.J. Thomson doubted that light was composed of particles. J.J. Thomson attempted to find a solution to this by his famous Gas Tube experiments. These experiments eventually took a turn when they showed that the particles are negatively charged and this discovery was as a matter of fact, a major step towards the formulation of a Standard Model of the Atom. Here observation played a major role and it so happens that our Sense Perception is important in the creation of Doubt. Where Mr. X will find a can of Coke hovering in mid-air as something unusual, Mr. Y may not. There is a conflict in this statement as well. Can it not be possible that it is this conflict in Perceptions that helps us get nearer to the truth, to the Knowledge? Thus we see that Doubt has significance in contributing knowledge. Let us assume that Doubt is not the key to Knowledge, then what is? To satisfy this argument, what I could come up with, was something that was contrary to doubt yet satisfying the condition that it should be a valid contributor of knowledge. Since the opposite of doubt is certainty, Laws and Absolute Doctrines could be considered as a knowledge contributor. However, it must be understood that Doubt is the emotion, which leads us to the formulation of these Laws. Hence, Doubt must be credited as being the key to knowledge. Yes, Curiosity could be a contributing factor for the expansion of knowledge. An appropriate analogy could be that of a car filled with fuel (Curiosity) and a key (Doubt). Hence without the inquisitiveness and the Doubt, our mind would remain unproductive. Einstein was a Theoretical Physicist who made, perhaps the biggest breakthrough of science in the 20th century with his Theories of Relativity. His peculiar curiosity, to be in constant quest for learning, was sparked at a very young age when he was shown a pocket compass. “What interested young Einstein was whichever way the case was turned, the needle always pointed in the same direction. He thought there must be some force in what was presumed empty space that acted on the compass”2. Einstein doubted what was it that made the compass always point in the same direction. Thus it is seen that Doubt and Curiosity both have an important role in being a key contributor of Knowledge. However, according to me, there is a certain extent to which we can doubt something. For example, there are some assumed a – priori truths such as ‘2+2 = 4’, which lie at the fundamentals of our understanding of the world, however by doubting these statements as well, we will instead of progressing towards knowledge, create more hindrances in the pursuit of knowledge. This marks the boundaries till which we can doubt some statements in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

We know for certain that people have different perceptions. Correspondingly this means that they yield different thoughts as well. This has a different role in Natural Sciences and a different role in Ethics. Standard Models have always had Doubt as an emotion which has lead to their formulation. An example is that of the Model for Solar System. Various Models such as the Tychonic System, Copernican System, etc which were believed in however all were doubted to some extent due to disagreement with observed facts. Thus these doubts became a reason for scientists to continue the pursuit of Knowledge. In case of ethics, doubting and questioning a supported belief creates tension between two parties. Doubt at the same time also leads to awareness, knowledge about a socially relevant issue. Sati, was a Hindu religious rite practiced in India which involved women to burn themselves in their husbands funeral pyre as an act to wash away any sins their husbands committed, thus making him able to have a happy afterlife. This notion was ethically put right by a person called Raja Ram Mohan Roy. He challenged this unethical ritual and brought it to a legal end. Thus, he by questioning, doubting a religious belief, made a difference for the women of India. This shows that highly revered, generation old practices, beliefs and dogma’s can also be unjustified and this leads to a socially relevant awareness. This awareness is nothing but knowledge in plain language.

Throughout my school life, I have experienced that feeling of doubt in some or the other learning experience. For example, I still remember my Physics teacher introducing the concept of gravity. After a whole lot of discussion about this weirdly interesting phenomena I happened to ask my teacher, “Sir, Why does Gravity exist?”, and the response was, “It just exists”. Personally, I believe that that was the day when my interest and subsequent curiosity was established for Physics. It was that moment of doubt that has today instilled in me the inquisitiveness towards the subject. Thus it seems to me that the very fact that we have exceptions and unanswered or perhaps unanswerable questions which all correspond to that disputing emotion, is the reason why we attain knowledge or perhaps stay on the pursuit of knowledge. We Humans have a tendency to question, to doubt the most fundamental occurrences in order to gain a better understanding of the world and how it functions. Doubt is that feeling which starts that cycle, of the yin – yang. If not, how could it ever be that we would know when we are right and when we are wrong? Are we on the right track? Is there something more to this event? We would be living in a world accepting unverified knowledge.

Hence, we see that Doubt interacts with different WOK’s in different AoK’s. Where in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics, it is the reasons and logics which sparks a conflicting emotion, In Ethics it is the emotions such as sympathy, and empathy. I believe that Doubt holds the key to our better understanding of not only what surrounds us but also who we are. Doubt defines us and perhaps will provide us with a convincing explanation as to what our goal is in this world. If not today, then maybe tomorrow, we might find what we are looking for; all we need to do is not lose hope.

Word Count – 1236.