Google+ Badge

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cosmopolitan Doubt

I recently published two blog posts on the book Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Hecht, which I had read for my Humanist book club. In my initial post, I identified 13 recurring ideas from the history of doubt and juxtaposed the ideas of the ancient philosophers with those of more familiar, modern atheist intellectuals. In a second post, I developed similar juxtapositions without the ancients, to give greater representation to later sages and female voices in particular. In this post I return to the ancients for historical continuity, adjusting the geographic perspective for a less eurocentric perspective. Cosmopolitan doubt is one of the categories described by Hecht. The title of this post, however, invokes the colloquial usage.

The following classes of doubt are not intended to be representative of the traditions from which they are taken. The Cynics, for example, might be better known for their rejection of obscurantism than immortality, but contemporary Humanism also rejects both. Likewise, the Cynics and Stoics both rejected immortality and embraced virtue for its own sake, but these ideas are also shared by contemporary Humanism. I've isolated a recurring idea from each movement with the goal of associating each idea with its own movement.

1. Rationalism 

Everything and nothing is sacred; everything and nothing is profane.

2. Naturalism 

There are no miracles; awe is just mystery without the ignorance.

3. Atheism 

Determined faith is wishful thinking.

4. Empiricism 

Discovery trumps revealed faith; prophesy is hearsay.


5. Cynicism

Immortality is a narcissistic fantasy.


6. Stoicism 

Faith calls for resignation of the will.

7. Universalism

Rival faiths are mutually contradictory; sectarian dogma is internally inconsistent.

8. Antitheism 

Divine intervention is a nepotism fantasy; there is no ultimate meaning or plan.

9. Agnosticism

Certainty licenses coercion; compulsory faith is often insincere and obscurantist.

10. Humanism 

Compassion is a human quality; faith calls for acquiescence to an arbitrary moral code.

11. Skepticism 

The incorporeal is immaterial; where there is no mass there is no substance.


12. Secularism 

Civil law trumps religious law; reason is the common currency of civil society.

13. Freethought 

Faith calls for suspension of the intellect.

What is significant about these categories of doubt is that they encompass a wide range of thought. My initial post, by demonstrating both the Antitheism and Humanism of ancients, puts innovations such as the New Atheism and Atheism+ in perspective. The second post demonstrates the social and historical continuity of these influential ideas. This final post broadens the geographic perspective. Taken together, these three posts demonstrate just how long some of the cardinal tenets of doubt have been around as well as the extent of their historical, social and geographic influence.

1 comment: