Friday, December 18, 2009

Goethe on Scepticism, etc.

It is only when a man knows little, that he knows anything at all. With knowledge grows doubt.

An active scepticism is one which constantly aims at overcoming itself, and arriving by means of regulated experience at a kind of conditioned certainty.

The general nature of the sceptical mind is its tendency to inquire whether any particular predicate really attaches to any particular object; and the purpose of the inquiry is safely to apply in practice what has thus been discovered and proved.

The thinker makes a great mistake when he asks after cause and effect: they both together make up the indivisible phenomenon.

Deep and earnest thinkers are in a difficult position with regard to the public.

Superstition is the poetry of life. And so it does not hurt the poet to be superstitious.

Mysticism is the scholastic of the heart, the dialectice of the feelings.

When a boy begins to understand that an invisible point must always come before a visible one, and that the shortest way between two points is a straight line, before he can draw it on his paper with a pencil, he experiences a certain pride and pleasure. And he is not wrong; for he has the source of all thought opened to him; idea and reality, potentia et actu, are become clear; the philosopher has no new discovery to bring him; as a mathematician, he has found the basis of all thought for himself.

Let us remember how great the ancients were; and especially how the Socratic school holds up to us the source and standard of all life and action, and bids us not indulge in empty speculation, but live and do.

If we set our gaze on antiquity and earnestly study it, in the desire to form ourselves thereon, we get the feeling as if it were only then that we really became men.

The Beautiful is a manifestation of secret laws of nature, which, without its presence, would never have been revealed.

With the growth of knowledge our ideas must from time to time be organized afresh. The change takes place usually in accordance with new maxims as they arise, but it always remains provisional.

We more readily confess to errors, mistakes, and shortcoming in our conduct than in our thoughts.

And the reason of it is that conscience is humble and even takes a pleasure in being ashamed. But the intellect is proud, and if forced to recant is driven to despair.

This also explains how it is that truths which have been recognised are at first tacitly admitted, and then gradually spread, so that the very thing which was obstinately denied appears at last as something quite natural.

Ignorant people raise questions which were answered by the wise thousands of years ago.

Our mistake is that we doubt what is certain and want to establish what is uncertain. My maxim in the study of Nature is this: hold fast what is certain and keep a watch on what is uncertain.

[From: The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe]


Denis said...

I'm not sure what this has to do with Skepticism. You probably define Skepticism too broadly here. In a broad sense everyone is a Skeptic.

So I can only quote another website: "Skepticism is a method, not a position". Turned into a position it becomes Relativism which makes it logically self-defeating.

Also, if you do not provide a positive case, your views are hard to sell in a modern society. If you object to a theory, you opponents will demand that you produce an equivalent theory as a replacement no matter how right you might be.

In mathematics, a demonstration that something is impossible counts as a discovery, but modern discourse is so far from pure science and plain honesty that skepticism is probably not the shortest way to persuasion.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Hi Denis, I actually think that Goethe himself directly addresses your concerns. He is encouraging the view that Scepticism is a method, and one to be used for arriving at truth. This is the opposite of seeing Scepticism as a dogma that denies the possibility of knowing truth.