Sunday, July 10, 2011

THE WILL TO DOUBT

Part II

For a life in which everything has an opposite, every idea a counter-idea, truth very plainly, as has indeed been frequently said, cannot be a specific consciousness or reality a fixed thing.
Have you ever climbed a mountain up and up and up, through thick woods, over rough, almost impassable trails, into clouds dense and chilling, stormy and angry, over treacherous snows and frightful cliffs, and come out at last on the very top to see both earth and heaven, yourself between, the clouds dispersed, the hardships and dangers all forgotten, the whole world real and yours? Well, that is doubt become achievement.
Have you worked at some problem of everyday life, or a problem of science or philosophy, patiently or impatiently applying all the rules and precepts at your command, trying every resort known to you, and in final desperation many you only guess at, and then, when failure seems almost certain, caught a glimpse of the real meaning and the real way, attaining to an insight that reveals a new world to you? That, too, is doubt rewarded.
Have you ever suffered a great heartrending disappointment or a great personal loss, and found it seemingly impossible to return to the routine of your former life, but nevertheless, almost imperceptibly, come into a sense of presence and gain from the very thing that seemed taken from you? That, once more, is doubt without its sting, robbed of its victory.
So we find ourselves well upon our way in the world of the doubter—and what a world it is! No finality, because so much reality. Conflict is forever necessary to its effective realization. Relativity is finiteness, of all things, of all things in it, just for the sake of its own true absoluteness, just to conserve its own actual infinity.
Does it hurt your business to doubt it sufficiently to make you able to sympathize with the interests of another? Does it hurt your politics, if you can lose enough of the partisan's conceit or the jingo's bombast to sympathize with the other parties or the other nations? The value of real independence in politics is one answer, and the idea of federation among competing states, or of international polity as a basis of successful national life, is another. Does it hurt your understanding to outgrow your own profoundest ideas and see some validity in the doctrines and formulæ of others?
The confession of doubt, which we set out to make with all possible candors, is now nearly concluded. The confession began, as will be remembered, with recognition of certain general and easily demonstrated facts, of which there were five, as follows:
(1) We are all universal doubters.
(2) Doubt is essential to all consciousness.
(3) Even habit, though confidence be the horse, has doubt sitting up behind.
(4) Like pain or ignorance, doubt is a condition of real life.
(5) And the sense of dependence, so general to human nature, gives rise to doubt, although also, like misery, it always seeks company—the company of nature, of man, of God.
Perfect approval or, for that matter, perfect disapproval, can belong to neither singly, not to you or me in our doubting, even though we fully confess, nor yet to him who hides his doubts in an outward show that almost deceives him as well as others.
Of course in all matters as well as in this of intellectual honesty, the conceit of individual righteousness or individual possession is a very strong one, but it is "easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye" than for a man who is anything or has anything to himself alone, to enter into any kingdom. Is not life everywhere a movement and a struggle? And who is there, rich or poor, law-abiding or lawless, righteous or unrighteous, faithful or treacherous, believing or doubting, who can stand aloof, or who needs to stand aloof, and say to himself: "I personally, within my own nature, have no part in the struggle; for good or for ill, I am just what I am, and with him that is against me I have and can have no dealings"?
The doubter, then, and the believer may have to look askance at each other; the looking askance may be quite appropriate to the conflict in which each has and must feel his social role, but, at most and worst, they are only jealous lovers. They may be given, and profitably given, as much to quarrelling as to gentleness, but they love still, and, to borrow part of a line from a familiar college song, their battling love affords just one more view of that which "makes the world go 'round"—instead of off at some tangent.
(Adapted from The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Will to Doubt, by Alfred H. Lloyd)


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