Critical Thinking

Doubt Through Descartes, the focus or paradigm shifted

Doubt has always been linked to the search for knowledge and arose with the immediate empirical perceptions of the things about us.  They are not what they seem.  For the ancients, doubt  was placed with the broader horizon of “trust”, but for us moderns “doubt” is the ground from which we begin our search for knowledge because of our need for “certainty” about things and what they are.  Modern philosophy and science finds it foundations in the thinking of Rene Descartes:  “I think therefore I am.”  Descartes’ philosophy grounded what we call the subject or object distinction by beginning with a doubt or distrust in his observations of how things appeared, in what we would call “simple facts.”  Descartes believed that all physical things can be doubted as to their “what” and their “how”, but what could not be doubted was the human being thinking was driven by the desire for “certainty”, and this desire is fulfilled by the principle of reason realizing itself in the calculating mathematical relations of the human subject regarding the things that are in the ways of knowing.  Through Descartes, the focus or paradigm shifted by placing human beings at the center of the things that are and in their thinking determining what the things are.  Rather than Nature establishing the standard of “what” something is, its perfection or completeness, human beings come to determine what something is in their calculations of the relations between themselves and the objects that they behold in the areas of knowledge, such as the natural sciences and religious knowledge system.  The question that we must come to consider is that “To what extent does lack of knowledge in the natural sciences of religious knowledge system confuse one’s belief in the given area of knowledge?”  The role doubt plays here is whether or not the choices are good choices and whether or not to trust in authorities that may provide us with advice on the making of the choices:  whether those authorities be parents, teachers, doctors, or scientists.  In many cases, the reliance upon “experts” is important in the making of choices since they have the “experience” and the “know how” that we may not.  In many cases the choices made arise from having trust in “authorities” that are not “good” whether they be doctors or politicians.  The natural sciences involves falsification in the process of the knowledge construction.  It could be argued that this is consonant with doubt.  However, conversely many people, in particular, scientists talk about increasing knowledge as a process of “proving” things or finding “scientific proof” is supposed to increase confidence not decrease it.  It introduces doubt as we see how something that we previously thought to be factually correct was actually wrong, and in turn that which we currently consider to be correct will also be changed in the future.  For example, in the field of psychology, increased data is supposed to increase the accuracy of the model, however it could at the same time demonstrate that the fundamental principles of the model are inaccurate.  At the same time, when models get something wrong the new “wrong” result can vastly increase the accuracy of the model.   Another example would include websites that says “Studies shows…” or “Scientists have proven…”  are not officially supported by other information; however, people are still willing to accept the idea.  It is because with the latest technology that we obtain, people forget that there is a process that comes with the search for knowledge.  Even with the amount of information that we have, it is through our own reasoning and intuition that we can determine whether or not the information is even right to begin with.  With the new knowledge that we have obtained, it would still create a sense of doubt amongst individuals due to the fact that not everyone has a previous knowledge to support the upcoming one  Relating back to the idea of knowing little is better for an individual to do so in that one avoids contradictory amongst the several acquired knowledges.  However, what do we consider as the limit of knowledge to know if the knowledge is little or more than necessary?  In the end, we can only believe that it is up to our judgement on whether or not to believe in the given knowledge and how we utilize in the natural sciences.   Religious knowledge systems, however, serves as a contrasting area of knowledge to the natural science, in which it provides more doubt to the knowledge that we were once certain about.  With religious knowledge system, one is not given the knowledge from a certain source but rather it comes from another own personal knowledge that has later become shared knowledge over a gradual course.  With A claim could be that people who have little knowledge of contrasting belief systems to their own have a high level of confidence in their own religious beliefs,  and that as knowledge of alternative belief systems grows doubt in their own religious beliefs grows.  However, we have to take into consideration in which some people might use their religious belief as a lens to construct knowledge of other belief systems in order to reveal the weaknesses of those belief systems, and thus to bolster their confidence in their own religious belief systems.  An example of this could be the intersection between Christianity and politics in the United States with associated conservative belief systems.  One case we could consider is the controversy on the topic about abortion in the United States.  Looking at this case in a religious aspect, it is consider wrong to kill a baby before the baby is even given a chance to live.  As a result, God will punish a woman for doing no matter what her reason is.  However, disregarding the religious aspect, women should be given the right to go through abortion due to her own personal reason.  These reasons could include the baby being forced upon the mother or the mother was not prepared or experience to have one.  Between these two circumstances, which do we consider to follow despite having the knowledge about both.  There is doubt amongst the two either ways.  In addition, knowledge that one acquires from the natural sciences directly contradicts the religious system, in that with the natural sciences, it provides “evidence” for every single matter.  As with the religious knowledge system, the beliefs for one individual is neither proven directly or supported, rather it is the accumulation of many other’s belief that make it even plausible in the first place.  As a result, with additional “personal knowledge” that has been included to that one specific, this only increases one’s doubt on the knowledge even further.  Unlike the natural sciences, in which we can say that one could decrease the doubt by defining one’s boundaries on the subject, religious knowledge system is more difficult in that there are no limitations to begin with due to the fact that the knowledge given in the first place could be wrong or correct.  As a result, the only way to decrease the doubt in the religious knowledge system is for one to define his or her boundaries himself or herself.  However, by doing so, he or she is also limiting the opportunities to expand that knowledge further.   The popular idea of “truth relativism” and the perspectivism of how one interprets the “what” and “how” that things area arises, but this is really a revisiting of the old historical occurrence of the issues and debates of what knowledge is between the sophists and the philosophers that has been present throughout the history of thinking.  With doubt there are no “facts” and there are only interpretations of facts, in other words, the things that are.  Truth and knowledge are related.  All truth is one and is an illumination of the things that are whether one chooses the correspondence, coherence, or pragmatic theories of truth.  Each is an example of representational thinking:  the mind corresponds to, coheres to or with, or makes pragmatic use of the perceptions of the things that are.  Many criticize the “alternate facts” of the language of the alternate right at the moment.  There are no “alternate facts”, of course; there are only alternative interpretations of the facts of the things that are.  Either these interpretations illuminate the things that are or they do not; or in the most spurious cases they are used to convey “intentional ignorance”  or obfuscation by those who have other ends in view Socrates once said:  “The opposite of knowledge is not ignorance, but madness”.  This statement indicates the seriousness of the conclusion we reach when we have to a decision about what knowledge is.  

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