Sunday, November 1, 2009

In Praise of "In Praise of Doubt"

I'm reading a rather nice book called In Praise of Doubt by Berger and Zijderveld.  Critical of what they call "Fundamentalism" and "Relativism", which they characterize as two forms of escape from the uncertainty of modern life, the authors seem to propose a kind of middle course or path (where have I heard that before?) which seems to be a species of pragmatic (my word) skepticism.

Intelligent doubt (my words) is useful as its application prevents fanaticism which can result from the acceptance of certain ideas as absolute.  Intelligent doubt is not, however, the kind of absolute doubt that relativists and postmodernists indulge in.  Their escape from uncertainty takes the form of an absolute belief that nothing is, or can be, "true"; all thoughts, ideas are equally invalid narratives.  So, in effect, who the hell cares?  Choices may have to be made, but one is relieved from the hard work of thinking.  No choice, or decision, is better than another.  The authors note that both forms of escape may be harmless when confined to sects or university faculties, but become problems when their true believers try to impose them on others.

The emphasis on the usefulness of doubt strikes me as a pragmatic point of view.  Dewey criticized famously the "quest for certainity."  However, like Peirce, he rejected the kind of futile or faux "doubt" professed by some philosophers and other intellectuals because, I think, he recognized that such "doubt" has nothing to do with, and is belied by, the way we live, i.e. how we conduct ourselves, and how we meet and resolve questions and problems we encounter in life.

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