By Daniela Ortiz, V Form
Faith and Doubt: Emotion’s Place in Epistemology
In this paper, I will argue that faith is comprised of knowing God without certainty. I will argue that this kind of faith does more good in the world than absolute certainty in God. People of faith must face doubt to strengthen belief. Although this seems paradoxical, the outcome of continuously facing doubt is a stronger commitment to looking beyond one’s self and following through on a commitment to treat all other people with respect.
Can we know God? Let us first define knowing.
Knowing is split into two categories- the logical knowing and emotional knowing. Logical knowing is what is certain and can be derived from the senses. In this, I agree with Hume. Knowledge of this kind is about the physical world around us and is known through data of the empirical kind such as our sensory information. There are limitations to what our senses can have us knowing. If a person’s senses deceived them, for example, by seeing a fake oasis in a desert, then this knowing may be faulty. But a singular type of incident should not be taken to alter the whole principle that logical knowing is defined by what we can perceive and what we can think. Also, logical knowing is similar to the way mathematics is used to model occurrences in the world. The use of logic conduces one answer. When there is only one answer, we shall call this certainty. When there are multiple answers, uncertainty begins. The category of emotional knowing often resides with uncertainty because our emotions are hard to maintain a grasp on long enough for one answer and train of thought to be maintained from the impression of the emotion. In section 2, paragraph 12, Hume makes a clear distinction between our thoughts and our impressions. Ideas are limited only to what we can expand upon from our sensory information, or from our desires and feelings. The argument here is sound. In paragraph 14, Hume explains that every thought we have is copied from a similar, earlier impression. Emotions may be short-lived, but they are more vivid, and all of our ideas about the world are formed from them (Hume 2). To bring it to a point: although emotions are fleeting, the emotional knowing should not be discounted as our impressions are stronger and more vivid than the ideas they will eventually inform.
So, how must we reconcile the fact that our emotions are uncertain, but complete certainty is comforting and fulfills the satisfaction we get from our logical knowing? Desire is an emotion, and we desire to be certain, to fill a hole in our existence regarding a higher being. Above I stated that our emotions and the knowledge we intuit from them should not be discounted. Therefore, the question of God’s existence is not useless, but perhaps it would do better to dwell in the uncertainty rather than trying to prove God exists through logical knowing. Kant’s proposition that there is a world of understanding that is not accessible to reasoning is a theoretical veil on what can be known (Kant 5). Reason cannot be carried beyond all possible experience such as in Descartes 2nd Meditation. I disagree with Descartes’s proposition of knowledge extended to certainty in God. But experience is also not all that can be known. There are some things we will never know because we cannot see them. Therefore, there is no certainty of God’s or any transcendent being’s existence. Again, no certainty or uncertainty is known as emotional knowledge. We can have emotional knowledge and know God as a force for good and a constantly changing representation of what faith. Faith without a leap taken past doubt is no real faith at all. Faith requires doubt and doubt strengthens faith to where the person is better capable of doing good for others and not being so caught up in the personal stakes of life.
A large cliff looms in the path we all take. Over the edge is the void where the questions we will never have the answers to reside. On this cliff looms despair, existential crises, or a leap into what the world could be if we were to have a little more faith in ourselves. By letting ourselves be comforted by the end of the pursuit for the proof, the logical knowing, or certainty in God, we are free to put our energy into the phenomenal world in which we live. I agree with Mother Emmnuel when she tells Sister John that the more valuable faith to a community is the “doing kind, not the knowing kind” (Salzman 181). Though I am not certain in God’s omnipresence or perfection, and I am arguing that no one can really be certain of a being that has left the phenomenal world and is beyond the veil that our most thoughtful concepts can’t pierce. Faith can give direction and purpose to life. If we can just live as if there is a God, our human relationships will improve. There is a social responsibility to love others and that is certain in a way that God is not. Facing our doubt in faith can just strengthen our resolve to do good.
Should we or must we be limited to the binary definitions of knowing? Both kinds of knowing can coexist even as one individual favors one over the other. The uncertainty that comes with not being able to logically know God is part of the journey we take towards understanding that there is no final answer to the question of whether God exists. We cannot know God because knowing is certainty, and God is doubt. Then, the question of existence having been exhausted in circles, the next question is how to live in the world now. What fills that hole? Our personal relationships and how we treat other people fill the void. Uncertainty and doubt are not necessarily bad things; they lead past the cliff that lies in our path to a better world and existence.
Daniela Ortiz is a V Form boarding student from Montgomery, New York. Her favorite subjects are biology, theater, and religion. In her free time, she loves watching Harry Potter with her friends, singing, and running.
Descartes, Rene. “Meditations on First Philosophy.” 1641. Great Voyages: The History of Western Philosophy From 1492 to 1776. Ed. Bill Uzgalis. Sept. 2003. Oregon State University. 24 November 2018.
Hume, David. “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.” 1748. Renascence Editions. Ed. ERIS Project. Aug. 2000. The University of Oregon. 25. Nov. 2008
Kant, Emanuel. Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics. Trans. Paul Carus. 1783. Philosophy Course Website. Ed. K. Gracy. Minnesota State University. 25. November. 2008.
Salzman, John. Lying Awake. New York: Knopf, 2000.