Quotations about:
    doubt


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It was one of the rules which above all others made Doctr. Franklin the most amiable of men in society, “never to contradict any body.” if he was urged to announce an opinion, he did it rather by asking questions, as if for information, or by suggesting doubts.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Thomas Jefferson Randolph (24 Nov 1808)
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Referring to Benjamin Franklin.
 
Added on 31-Oct-22 | Last updated 31-Oct-22
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Our secularism is hard-won, the product of centuries of political, intellectual, and sometimes physical courage. Secularism is the institutionalization of doubt, or more precisely of respect for doubt. It is harder to love doubt than to love freedom. So we are grudging about our secularism, and some of us are a little ashamed of it. Maybe it takes Rushdie’s nightmare and Khomeini’s rage to remind us how precious it is, and how fiercely it must be guarded.

Hendrik Hertzberg (b. 1943) American journalist, editor, speech writer, political commentator
“TRB from Washington,” The New Republic (20 Mar 1989)
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Added on 25-Feb-22 | Last updated 25-Feb-22
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BECKET: Beauty is one of the few things which don’t shake one’s faith in God.

[Le beauté est une des rares choses qui ne font pas douter de Dieu.]

Jean Anouilh (1910-1987) French dramatist
Becket, Act 1 (1959) [tr. Hill (1960)]
    (Source)

The official English translation approved by Anouilh. (Source (French)). Alternate translations:

Beauty is one of the very few things that don't shake one's faith in God.
[tr. Raphael and Raphael (2004)]

Beauty is one of the rare things that do not lead to doubt of God.
[Frequently found translation, but source unknown]

 
Added on 21-Feb-22 | Last updated 21-Feb-22
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Once you become self-conscious, there is no end to it; once you start to doubt, there is no room for anything else.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 5 (1963)
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Added on 27-Jan-22 | Last updated 10-Mar-22
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I felt fairly sure that the Almighty, whatever name tag He had on at the moment, could handle a few questions from people sincerely looking for answers. Hell, He might even like it.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Changes, ch. 14 (2010)
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Added on 20-Jan-22 | Last updated 20-Jan-22
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Inquiry into the evidence of a doctrine is not to be made once for all, and then taken as finally settled. It is never lawful to stifle a doubt; for either it can be honestly answered by means of the inquiry already made, or else it proves that the inquiry was not complete.

“But,” says one, “I am a busy man; I have no time for the long course of study which would be necessary to make me in any degree a competent judge of certain questions, or even able to understand the nature of the arguments.” Then he should have no time to believe.

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Ethics of Belief,” Part 1 “The Duty of Inquiry,” Lecture, London (11 Apr 1876)
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Added on 6-Dec-21 | Last updated 6-Dec-21
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Every time we let ourselves believe for unworthy reasons, we weaken our powers of self-control, of doubting, of judicially and fairly weighing evidence. We all suffer severely enough from the maintenance and support of false beliefs and the fatally wrong actions which they lead to, and the evil born when one such belief is entertained is great and wide. But a greater and wider evil arises when the credulous character is maintained and supported, when a habit of believing for unworthy reasons is fostered and made permanent.

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Ethics of Belief,” Part 1 “The Duty of Inquiry,” Lecture, London (11 Apr 1876)
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Added on 15-Nov-21 | Last updated 15-Nov-21
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To know all about anything is to know how to deal with it under all circumstances. We feel much happier and more secure when we think we know precisely what to do, no matter what happens, than when we have lost our way and do not know where to turn. And if we have supposed ourselves to know all about anything, and to be capable of doing what is fit in regard to it, we naturally do not like to find that we are really ignorant and powerless, that we have to begin again at the beginning, and try to learn what the thing is and how it is to be dealt with — if indeed anything can be learnt about it. It is the sense of power attached to a sense of knowledge that makes men desirous of believing, and afraid of doubting.

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Ethics of Belief,” Part 1 “The Duty of Inquiry,” Lecture, London (11 Apr 1876)
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Added on 8-Nov-21 | Last updated 8-Nov-21
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Knowledge breeds doubt, not certainty, and the more we know the more uncertain we become.

Taylor - Knowledge breeds doubt, not certainty - wist.info quote

A. J. P. Taylor (1906-1990) British historian, journalist, broadcaster [Alan John Percivale Taylor]
“What Else Indeed?” New York Review of Books (5 Aug 1965)
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Added on 20-Sep-21 | Last updated 20-Sep-21
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Doubts are not the enemy of belief, they are its companion.

Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell (b. 1963) Anglo-Canadian journalist, author, public speaker
Talking to Strangers (2019)
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Added on 12-Jul-21 | Last updated 12-Jul-21
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The worst part of fear is not knowing what to do. And often you have only to ask What would I do if I were not afraid? to know what to do, and do it, and not be afraid.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, #121 (2001)
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Added on 22-Jun-21 | Last updated 22-Jun-21
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I hate doubt, yet I am certain that doubt is the only way to approach anything worth believing in.

Edward Teller (1908-2003) Hungarian-American theoretical physicist
In Phillip Berman, The Courage of Conviction (1985)
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Added on 6-Apr-21 | Last updated 19-Apr-21
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To ridicule philosophy, that is really to act the philosopher.

[Se moquer de la philosophie c’est vraiment philosophe.]

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) French scientist and philosopher
Thoughts [Pensées], Article 7, #35 (1670)

Pascal's works are sorted and classified by translators in a variety of ways, so numbering is inconsistent. Alternate translations:
  • "To have no time for philosophy is to be a true philosopher." [tr. Krailsheimer (2003); Series 22, #513]
  • "To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher." [tr. Paul (1885), "Various Thoughts"; also Trotter (1958), Sec. 1, #4]
  • "To ridicule philosophy is really to philosophize." [#430]
  • "To ridicule philosophy is truly philosophical."
  • "To mock philosophy is to philosophize truly"
  • "To mock philosophy is to be a true philosopher."
 
Added on 22-Mar-21 | Last updated 22-Mar-21
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You must have three essentials for the investigation of Chan [Zen]. The first is that you must have the foundation of great faith. The second is that you must have a zealous determination. The third is that you must have the feeling of great doubt. If you omit one of these it is like breaking off the leg of a tripod, which ends up becoming a useless vessel.

高峰云、叅禪須具三要 一有大信根
二有大憤志 三有大疑情 苟闕其一
如折足之鼎 終成廢器。

Hyujeong (1520-1604) Korean Seon (Sŏn, Zen) Master [Sosan Taesa, Seosan Daesa, Dae Seonsa]
Mirror of Zen [Samga Gwigam; Samga Kwigom; Seonga Gwigam], ch. 14 [tr. Jorgensen (2012)]
    (Source)

Alternate translations:

For the study of Seon, there are three requirements: (1) having the great root of faith; (2) having great determination, and (3) having great doubt. If you lack one of these, it is like a broken like on a tripod sacrificial vessel. In the end you will discard it.
[tr. Miller (2017)]

There are three essentials to Sŏn meditation. First of all, you must be rooted in Great Faith and Great Confidence. Secondly, one must have Great Anger -- a strong, inwardly-directed, ardent determination to practice. Thirdly, one must have Great Doubt. If one of these is missing, it is like a tripod vessel with one leg cut off -- in the end, it will be of no use.
[Source]

It is well known that Ganhwaseon practitioners must have three things of essential importance: The first is a Foundation of Great Faith (大信根) for the practice which is possible; the second is Great Zealous Determination (大憤志) of practice to attain enlightenment; the third is a Great Feeling of Doubt (大疑情) on the Hwadu. If one of these is lacking, then it is like a tripod pot with a broken foot and is useless.
[Source]

 
Added on 22-Mar-21 | Last updated 22-Mar-21
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If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) Austrian-English philosopher
On Certainty, Para. 115 (1969) [tr. Paul & Anscombe]
 
Added on 25-Jan-21 | Last updated 25-Jan-21
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The path of sound credence is through the thick forest of skepticism.

George Jean Nathan (1892-1958) American editor and critic
Materia Critica, “Critic and Criticism,” sec. 4 (1924)
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Added on 14-Dec-20 | Last updated 14-Dec-20
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ONLY THE MADMAN IS ABSOLUTELY SURE.

Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007) American author, futurist self-described "agnostic mystic" [pen name of Robert Edward Wilson]
The Eye in the Pyramid (1975) [with Robert Shea]
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Added on 16-Nov-20 | Last updated 16-Nov-20
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It would never come into their [the masses’] heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

Adolph Hitler (1889-1945) German leader
Mein Kampf [My Struggle], Vol. 1, ch. 10 (1925)
 
Added on 13-Oct-20 | Last updated 13-Oct-20
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The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
“Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship” (1964)
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Added on 4-Aug-20 | Last updated 4-Aug-20
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ALCESTE: Doubts are more cruel than the worst of truths.

[Les doutes sont fâcheux plus que toute autre chose.]

Molière (1622-1673) French playwright, actor [stage name for Jean-Baptiste Poquelin]
Le Misanthrope, Act 3, sc. 5, l. 1122 (1666) [tr. Wormeley]

Alt. trans.: "Doubts are more torturing than any truth." [tr. Page]
 
Added on 8-May-20 | Last updated 8-May-20
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When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
(Attributed)

Frequently attributed to Nietzsche, starting in the late 1950s, but never cited and not found in any of his writings. More discussion here.
 
Added on 10-Apr-19 | Last updated 10-Apr-19
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Men become civilized not in proportion to their willingness to believe but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“What I Believe,” sec. 4, Forum and Century (Sep 1930)
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Added on 17-Apr-17 | Last updated 17-Apr-17
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The seed had sprouted into that most wonderful and horrible of fruits: doubt, which, like the strawberry, has a succulent taste, but has also a tendency to spread and spread, until it dominates whatever garden it has taken root in.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
The Phoenix Guards (1991)
 
Added on 20-Jan-17 | Last updated 20-Jan-17
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I think Hell is something you carry around with you, not somewhere you go.

gaiman-hell-is-something-you-carry-around-wist_info-quote

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
(Attributed)
 
Added on 1-Dec-16 | Last updated 1-Dec-16
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Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.

Shakespeare - never doubt I love - wist_info quote

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Hamlet, Act 2, sc. 2, l. 124ff [Hamlet] (c. 1600)
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A letter from Hamlet to Ophelia, read by Polonius.
 
Added on 13-Jun-16 | Last updated 27-Jun-22
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The world is made up for the most part of morons and natural tyrants, sure of themselves, strong in their own opinions, never doubting anything.

Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) American lawyer
Personal Liberty (1928)
 
Added on 25-Apr-16 | Last updated 25-Apr-16
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If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.

Lewis - confidence - wist_info quote

Carl Lewis (b. 1961) American Olympic athlete
(Attributed)
 
Added on 16-Dec-15 | Last updated 16-Dec-15
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If I want to stop a research program I can always do it by getting a few experts to sit in on the subject, because they know right away that it was a fool thing to try in the first place.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
(Attributed)
 
Added on 25-Sep-15 | Last updated 25-Sep-15
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The trouble about God is that he is like a person who never acknowledges one’s letters and so, in time, one comes to the conclusion either that he does not exist or that you have got the address wrong. I admitted that it was of great moment: but what was the use of going on dispatching fervent messages — say to Edinburgh — if they all came back through the dead letter office: nay more, if you couldn’t even find Edinburgh on the map.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Letter to Warren Lewis (1 Jul 1921)
 
Added on 2-Sep-15 | Last updated 2-Sep-15
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The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) US President (1933-1945)
Speech (Undelivered) for Jefferson Day (13 Apr 1945)
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Added on 6-May-15 | Last updated 6-May-15
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The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Monstrous Regiment (2003)
 
Added on 6-May-15 | Last updated 6-May-15
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If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting, too ….

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) English writer
“If–” st. 1 (1910)
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Added on 16-Mar-15 | Last updated 3-Jul-17
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The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.

Francis I (b. 1936) Argentinian Catholic Pope (2013- ) [b. Jorge Mario Bergoglio]
Interview with Antonio Spadaro, America Magazine (30 Sep 2013)
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Added on 3-Mar-15 | Last updated 3-Mar-15
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If you can’t stop the bad thoughts from coming to visit, at least you can make fun of them while they’re hanging around.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Turn Coat, ch. 14 (2009)
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Added on 14-Oct-14 | Last updated 20-Jan-22
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Skepticism is the beginning of faith.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
The Picture of Dorian Gray, ch. 17 (1891)

See also Emerson, Hesse, Tennyson.
 
Added on 8-Aug-14 | Last updated 29-Aug-14
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Where men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken, and have there given reins to passion, without that proper deliberation and suspense, which can alone secure them from the grossest absurdities.

David Hume (1711-1776) Scottish philosopher, economist, historian, empiricist
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Sec. 9.13 “Conclusion, Pt. 1” (1751)
 
Added on 23-Dec-13 | Last updated 16-Sep-20
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Not that indeed I imitated the sceptics, who only doubt for the sake of doubting, and pretend to be always uncertain; for, on the contrary, my design was only to provide myself with good ground for assurance, and to reject the quicksand and mud in order to find the rock or clay.

[Non que j’imitasse pour cela les sceptiques, qui ne doutent que pour douter, et affectent d’être toujours irrésolus; car, au contraire, tout mon dessein ne tendoit qu’à m’assurer, et à rejeter la terre mouvante et le sable pour trouver le roc ou l’argile.]

René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician
Discourse on Method [Discours de la méthode], Part 3 (1637) [tr. Haldane & Ross (1911)]
    (Source)

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

Not that I therein imitated the Scepticks, who doubt onely to the end they may doubt, and affect to be always unresolved: For on the contrary, all my designe tended onely to fix my self, and to avoid quick-mires and sands, that I might finde rock and clay.
[tr. Newcombe ed. (1649)]

Not that in this I imitated the sceptics who doubt only that they may doubt, and seek nothing beyond uncertainty itself; for, on the contrary, my design was singly to find ground of assurance, and cast aside the loose earth and sand, that I might reach the rock or the clay.
[tr. Veitch (1901)]

For all that, I did not imitate the sceptics who doubt only for doubting's sake, and pretend to be always undecided; on the contrary, my whole intention was to arrive at a certainty, and to dig away the drift and the sand until I reached the rock or the clay beneath.
[tr. Huxley (1870)]

In doing this I was not copying the sceptics, who doubt only for the sake of doubting and pretend to be always undecided; on the contrary, my whole aim was to reach certainty -- to cast aside the loose earth and sand so as to come upon rock or clay.
[tr. Cottingham, Stoothoff (1985)]

 
Added on 28-Dec-12 | Last updated 4-Jun-22
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To spell out the obvious is often to call it into question.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) American writer, philosopher, longshoreman
The Passionate State of Mind, Aphorism 220 (1955)
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Added on 5-Mar-12 | Last updated 24-Jun-22
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What do I believe? I believe in God, if he exists.

Stanislaw Lec (1909-1966) Polish aphorist, poet, satirist
Unkempt Thoughts [Myśli nieuczesane] (1957) [tr. Gałązka (1962)]
 
Added on 7-Jan-11 | Last updated 29-Mar-22
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The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than of deep conviction. The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt than the assailant without.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) American writer, philosopher, longshoreman
The Passionate State of Mind, Aphorism 63 (1955)
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Added on 9-Jul-10 | Last updated 23-Jun-22
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Progress generally begins in skepticism about accepted truths. Intellectual freedom means the right to reexamine much that has been long taken for granted. A free man must be a reasoning man, and he must dare to doubt what a legislative or electoral majority may most passionately assert. The danger that citizens will think wrongly is serious, but less dangerous than atrophy from not thinking at all.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 442 (1950) [concurrence and dissent]
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Added on 2-Mar-10 | Last updated 2-Jan-23
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I will not attack your doctrines nor your creeds if they accord liberty to me. If they hold thought to be dangerous — if they aver that doubt is a crime, then I attack them one and all, because they enslave the minds of men.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Ghosts” (1877)
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Added on 14-Aug-09 | Last updated 2-Feb-16
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Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized a man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.”

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
Minority Report : H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks, #418 (1956)
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Added on 28-Oct-08 | Last updated 23-Feb-22
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In my religion there would be no exclusive doctrine; all would be love, poetry and doubt.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) English intellectual, literary critic and writer.
The Unquiet Grave (1945)
 
Added on 11-Dec-07 | Last updated 17-Jul-20
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Life is made up of a series of judgments on insufficient data, and if we waited to run down all our doubts, it would flow past us.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“On Receiving an Honorary Degree,” Harvard University (22 Jan 1939)
    (Source)

First printed in the Harvard Alumni Bulletin (7 Jul 1939)
 
Added on 28-Aug-07 | Last updated 25-Jan-22
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Sufficient to today are the duties of today. Don’t waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour’s duties will be the best preparation for the hours and ages that will follow it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Immortality,” Letters and Social Aims (1876)
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Added on 15-Aug-07 | Last updated 14-Mar-22
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Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.

[Le doute n’est pas une condition agréable, mais la certitude est absurde.]

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Letter to Frederick William, Prince of Prussia (28 Nov 1770) [tr. Tallentyre (1919)]
    (Source)

Alt trans.
  • "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."
  • "Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one."
  • "Doubt is not a very agreeable state, but certainty is a ridiculous one."
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 11-Jan-21
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In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
(Attributed)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 9-May-16
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A man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.

Euripides (485?-406? BC) Greek tragic dramatist
Helen (412 BC)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 2-Nov-20
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We know accurately only when we know little, with knowledge doubt increases.

[Eigentlich weiss man nur wenn man wenig weiss; mit dem Wissen wachst des Zweifel.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Spruche in Prosa [Proverbs in Prose] (1819)
 
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Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win,
By fearing to attempt.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Measure for Measure, Act 1, sc. 4, l. 85ff [Lucio] (1604)
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If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin in doubts, he shall end in certainties.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
De Augmentis Scientiarum [Advancement of Learning], Book 1, ch. 5, sec. 8 (1605)

Alt trans. (Willey Book ed., (1944)): "If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and are patient with them, we shall end in certainties."
 
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If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.

[Veritatem inquirenti, semel in vita de omnibus, quantum fieri potest, esse dubitandum.]

Descartes - If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things - wist.info quote

René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician
Principles of Philosophy [Principia Philosophiae], Part 1 “The Principles of Human Knowledge [De Principiis Cognitionis Humane],” Article 1 (1644)

Common, unsourced translation of Descartes first principle. Frequently mis-sourced to Discourse on Method (1637) or Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), though those predecessor works do speak of the same principle.

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

That in order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life, to doubt, as far as possible, of all things.
[tr. Veitch (1850)]

That in order to examine into the truth, it is necessary once on one's life to doubt of all things, so far as this is possible.
[tr. Haldane/Ross (1934)]

The seeker after truth must, once in the course of his life, doubt everything, as far as possible.
[tr. Miller & Miller (1982)]

That whoever is searching after truth must, once in his life, doubt all things; insofar as this is possible.
[tr. Cottingham/Stoothoff/Murdoch (1985)]

 
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In my opinion, any faith that cannot withstand a little shaking isn’t constructed too well to begin with. Jesus built his church on a rock, not on swampland.

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John Russell (contemp.) ("jr")
Belief-L
 
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Modest doubt is called
The beacon of the wise.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Troilus and Cressida, Act 2, sc. 2, l. 15ff [Hector] (1602)
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