Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
Search Quotes Search Sages Search Chapters

Doubt

The original meaning of the term skeptic or doubter referred to the process of seeking, searching for the truth. Since there’s always room for doubt, the core principle became the suspension of judgment. Modern skepticism championed by Descartes postulated a demon-like external force filling our minds with false beliefs but also the possibility of finding an absolute truth. The early Greek version doubted this possibility also and described the skeptical search itself as a recipe for happiness, a way of living for the ideal sage. Siting “Chinese whispers” or “the telephone game” and quoting Socrates saying “I only know that I know nothing,” it described all truth as relative to the observer, things are neither one way or another, and recommended avoiding all opinion and belief. Skeptics like Arcesilaus attacked Stoics as proposing a balance between science and opinion which they thought impossible because basically a contradiction in terms.

Read More

Quotes (72)

“How prone to doubt, how cautious are the wise!”

Homer 850 BCE - ?
Primogenitor of Western culture
from Iliad

63. Easy as Hard

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Socrates 469 – 399 BCE
One of the most powerful influences on Western Civilization

Themes: Doubt

67. Three Treasures
71. Sick of Sickness

“There is one safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an advantage and security to all, but especially to democracies as against despots - suspicion.”

Demosthenes Δημοσθένης 384 – 322 BCE

Themes: Doubt

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Doubt Reason

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Nothing is certain, not even that.”

Arcesilaus Ἀρκεσίλαος 316 – 241 BCE

Themes: Doubt

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Merely to entertain doubts about saṃsāra will make it fall apart.”

Āryadeva འཕགས་པ་ལྷ། 3rd C. CE
(Kannadeva)
from Four Hundred Verses on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas

Themes: Doubt

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“It is a fictional world distorted by the mind and the conviction of our society that it is the only reality is an enormous hurdle.”

Thaganapa 11th C. CE

Themes: Doubt

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“the first key to wisdom is assiduous and frequent questioning… for by doubting we come to inquiry, and by inquiring we arrive at truth”

Peter Abelard Pierre Abélard 1079 – 1142 CE
from Dialogue Between a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Only in the mathematical sciences are things known to us identified with those known absolutely.”

Averroes, Ibn Rushd ابن رشد‎‎ 1126 – 1198 CE via William of Baskerville

Themes: Belief Doubt

“Where there is great doubt, there will be great awakening; small doubt, small awakening, no doubt, no awakening.”

Mumon Ekai 無門慧開 1183 – 1260 CE
(Wumen Huikai)
from The Gateless Gate, 無門関, 無門關

Themes: Doubt

70. Inscrutable

“Life's most precious gift is uncertainty.”

Yoshida Kenkō 兼好 1284 – 1350 CE
Inspiration of self-reinvention
from Harvest of Leisure

Themes: Doubt Curiosity

“Better to be tentative than to be recklessly sure - to be an apprentice at sixty, than to present oneself as a doctor at ten.”

Montaigne 1533 – 1592 CE

Themes: Doubt

12. This Over That

“Begin with certainties and end in doubts; or begin with doubts and end in certainties.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE

Themes: Doubt Curiosity

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Begin philosophy by doubting everything.”

René Descartes 1596 – 1650 CE

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, at least once in your life doubt all things.”

René Descartes 1596 – 1650 CE

Themes: Doubt Curiosity

17. True Leaders

“Never start anything new if you have doubts... decisions made with certainty often turn out badly, how much more often if you start without confidence?”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Shan Dao, #91
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Success Doubt

“Every fool is fully convinced, and everyone fully convinced is a fool; the more erroneous his judgment, the more firmly he hold it.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE

Themes: Doubt

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

Themes: Doubt

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

Themes: Doubt

18. The Sick Society

“Skepticism is the first step on the road to philosophy.”

Diderot 1713 – 1784 CE
from Encyclopédie

Themes: Doubt

“Skepticism is a resting-place for human reason, where it can reflect upon its dogmatic wanderings… but it is no dwelling-place for permanent settlement.”

Immanuel Kant 1724 – 1804 CE
from Critique Of Pure Reason

“A state of skepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds. But the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude that, if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision.”

Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1794 CE
from Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

Themes: Doubt

“We know accurately only when we know little; doubt grows with knowledge.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

67. Three Treasures

“There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.”

Robert Burns 1759 – 1796 CE

Themes: Doubt

“If I am fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of his self-approved wisdom.”

Lord Byron 1788 – 1824 CE
(George Gordon Byron)
The first rock-star style celebrity

Themes: Doubt Curiosity

“I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the heart's affections, and the truth of Imagination… My Imagination is a Monastery and I am its Monk.”

John Keats 1795 – 1821 CE
Writer of "poems as immortal as English"
from Letters

Themes: Imagination Doubt

“Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.”

Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allen Poe 1809 – 1849 CE

Themes: Belief Doubt

18. The Sick Society

“Aristotle’s view that philosophy begins with wonder, not as in our day with doubt, is a positive point of departure for philosophy. Indeed, the world will no doubt learn that it does not do to begin with the negative, and the reason for success up to the present is that philosophers have never quite surrendered to the negative and thus have never earnestly done what they have said. They merely flirt with doubt.”

Søren Kierkegaard 1813 – 1855 CE via Swenson
"The first existentialist philosopher"
from Journals

Themes: Doubt

“First doubt, then inquire, then discover. This has been the process with all our great thinkers…He who knows most believes the least.”

Henry Thomas Buckle 1821 – 1862 CE
from History of Civilization

“Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author

67. Three Treasures

“We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

Henry James 1843 – 1916 CE

Themes: Doubt Desire

“One's belief in truth begins with a doubt of all the truths one has believed before.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Human All Too Human - A Book for Free Spirits

Themes: Doubt Curiosity

“I myself do not believe that anybody ever looked into the world with a distrust as deep as mine... a constant, subtle, incitement to an overturning of habitual opinions and of approved customs.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Human All Too Human - A Book for Free Spirits

“Sagacious spirits doubt all things, and hold fast only to that which is demonstrably true.”

Arthur Desmond 1859 – 1929 CE
from Might Is Right

Themes: Doubt

64. Ordinary Mind

“Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect.”

Santayana, George 1863 – 1952 CE
(Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás)
Powerfully influential, true-to-himself philosopher/poet
from Skepticism and Animal Faith

Themes: Doubt

“Is there any knowledge in the world which is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it?”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”

Themes: Doubt

“the demand for certainty is an intellectual vice”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from Unpopular Essays

Themes: Doubt

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Almost all knowledge is in some degree doubtful... the doubtfulness of what passes for knowledge is a matter of degree”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from Unpopular Essays

Themes: Doubt

“a dogma, that is to say, an undisputable confession of faith, is set up only when the aim is to suppress doubts once and for all. But that no longer has anything to do with scientific judgment; only with personal power drive.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Themes: Doubt

“The spirit of philosophy is one of free inquiry. It suspects all authority. Its function is to trace the uncritical assumptions of human thought to their hiding places, and in this pursuit it may finally end in denial or a frank admission of the incapacity of pure reason to reach the ultimate reality.”

Muhammad Iqbal محمد اقبال 1877 – 1938 CE

“This system teaches people to believe in absolutely nothing. You must verify everything that you see, hear and feel. Only in that way can you come to something.”

Ouspensky Пётр Демья́нович Успе́нский 1878 – 1947 CE
(Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenskii)

Themes: Belief Doubt

“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

Themes: Doubt

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Trust only those who doubt.”

Lǔ Xùn 鲁迅 1881 – 1936 CE
(Zhou Shuren; Lusin)
Insightful satirist representing the "Literature of Revolt"

from Epigrams of Lusin

Themes: Doubt Curiosity

“Be confident, not certain.”

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 – 1962 CE

Themes: Doubt Openness

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“How can man progress if he is forbidden to question tradition?”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

Themes: Progress Doubt

20. Unconventional Mind

“He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it.”

T. S. Eliot 1888 – 1965 CE

Themes: Doubt Belief

18. The Sick Society

“Intelligence comes into being when the brain discovers its fallibility.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)
from Awakening of Intelligence

Themes: Doubt

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Neither your gods, nor your science can save you, can bring you psychological certainty; and you have to accept that you can trust in absolutely nothing.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)

“The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE
from The Sane Society

58. Goals Without Means
38. Fruit Over Flowers

“Of all, one must doubt.

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

Themes: Doubt Curiosity

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Since we can never know anything for sure, it is simply not worth searching for certainty; but it is well worth searching for truth; and we do this chiefly by searching for mistakes, so that we have to correct them.”

Karl Popper 1902 – 1994 CE
Major Philosopher of Science
from In Search of a Better World (1984)

Themes: Doubt Curiosity

“Love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god.”

Denys de Rougemont 1906 – 1985 CE
Non-conformist leader, influential cultural theorist
from Love in the Western World

“The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt [about] whether we are right”

Saul Alinsky 1909 – 1972 CE

Themes: Doubt

“I felt that I understood nothing... In an instant all my doubts and the gloomy mist of my confusion vanished. Everything I had held in firm conviction, everything upon which I had ordinarily relied was swept away with the wind.”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信 1913 – 2008 CE via Larry Korn
from One Straw Revolution

Themes: Confusion Doubt

“The courage to doubt, on which American pluralism, federalism, and religious liberty are founded, is a special brand of courage, a more selfless brand of courage than the courage of orthodoxy. A brand that has been rarer and more precious in the history of the West than the courage of the crusader.”

Daniel J. Boorstin 1914 – 2004 CE
American intellectual Paul Revere
from Hidden History, 1987

Themes: Doubt Pluralism

“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

Charles Bukowski 1920 – 1994 CE
"Laureate of American lowlife”

Themes: Confidence Doubt

“Doubt is a condition of life quaking in the bone because the bone is on fire”

Jack Kerouac 1922 – 1969 CE
from Some of the Dharma

Themes: Doubt Curiosity

“Where faith is weak, there is an abundance of beliefs.”

Reb Zalman 1924 – 2014 CE
from Paradigm Shift

Themes: Doubt Belief

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Only don’t know!”

Seungsahn 숭산행원대선사 1927 – 2004 CE
(Soen Sa Nim)

Themes: Doubt

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“I was never aware of any other option but to question everything.”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –

Themes: Doubt

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Themes: Doubt

“the mind wanders without certainties, desolate, silent, awkward. But in that milky, dim strangeness lies the way… the way embodies the eternal beginning, the ever-springing source.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

20. Unconventional Mind

“To believe that our beliefs are permanent truths which encompass reality is a sad arrogance.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

2. The Wordless Teachings

“I don't believe anything, but I have many suspicions.”

Robert Anton Wilson 1932 – 2007 CE

Themes: Doubt

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“We don't know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don't know.”

Pema Chödrön 1936 CE –
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
First American Vajrayana nun
from When Things Fall Apart

Themes: Doubt

“The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.”

Pema Chödrön 1936 CE –
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
First American Vajrayana nun

65. Simplicity: the Hidden Power of Goodness

“Everyday I wonder how many things I am dead wrong about.”

Jim Harrison 1937 – 2016 CE
"untrammeled renegade genius”

“Everything is compartmentalized, so you can never experience things completely… packaged food, packaged vacations, package deals of all kinds. There is no room to experience doubtlessness in that world… no room to experience reality fully and properly.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa

Themes: Doubt Technology

18. The Sick Society

“Doubt and compassion are both very direct... There is a sense of something touching your heart, and it is painful.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Judith Lief, editor
from Bodhisattva Path of Wisdom and Compassion

Themes: Doubt

“We actually need intelligent doubt and skepticism; they protect us against mistaken views and propaganda.”

Dzogchen Pönlop 1965 CE –

Themes: Doubt Curiosity

“Science, like a general, is identifying its enemies: received wisdom and untested assumptions; superstition and quackery; the tyrants' fear of educated commoners; and , most pernicious of all, man's fondness for fooling himself.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Comments (0)