Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Ingersoll on doubt

I offer for contemplation a quote by the great 19th-century orator, Robert Green Ingersoll:
Fear believes, courage doubts.
(from his Lecture on Ghosts - see this collection in Project Gutenberg for the full text.)

I know that this can be taken in different ways by different people, so I offer more commentary than I usually do with quotations.

For those of you whose first impulse is to be insulted, I encourage you to try to step back and see the sense in which it is a valuable sentiment. Note that it does not mean that all belief is born of fear, nor all doubt of courage; it just means that fear is a great motivator of ill-founded belief, and courage an important foundation for honest doubt.

For those of you whose first impulse is to feel smug - that this is a condemnation of someone else - I encourage you to think again. Do you apply doubt to all of your beliefs, or are some "special" in one way or another?

Ingersoll's quote - from a discussion of witch-hunts and superstitious hysteria - is a warning to us all. It is a statement about human nature, not just about one type of worldview.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the good reminder, Timothy! I've posted a response here.


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