Knowledge and doubt are often considered as contradicting elements. The proverb of “We know with confidence only when we know little; with knowledge doubt increases.” challenges this claim by linking the acquiring of knowledge to each other. Doubt is defined as a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction, while knowledge is the facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education or the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. Thus, we can see how one could argue that doubt heavily influences the way in which humans gather knowledge, despite the seemingly contradicting aspects. From which I have derived the knowledge questions, “Is it possible to know with confidence?” and “How can more knowledge lead to doubt?” from the title. This essay aims to question the role of doubt in two areas of knowledge, History and Natural Sciences. History is defined as “A continuous, typically chronological, record of important or public events or of a particular trend or institution” (Oxford) Historical investigation often involves the use of the historical method to generate secondary historiography through the use of primary evidence. The historical method requires a certain amount of doubt as source criticism forms an integral aspect of forming historiography. Source criticism is defined as the “process of evaluating the qualities of an information source, such as its validity, reliability and relevance to the subject under investigation”. It is often used in the practice of historical investigation, where orthodox views on evidence, motives and decision-making processes surrounding a historical event are revised and reinterpreted. Revisionist historians doubt and reinterpret evidence given to them and draws new conclusions from them, thus challenging existing theories through newly generated evidence. During the peace treaty negotiations post-First World War, Germany was declared guilty of starting the war, as proposed by the Treaty of Versailles. However, this orthodox interpretation was later revised when new evidence showing aggression from other countries to present a different causation that suggested Germany was not the only party to be held responsible for beginning the war. This example supports how doubting the claims from historical evidence presented had caused new evidence to be discovered and brought in to shed new light on the subject, leading to more accurate conclusions drawn, ultimately contributing to the progress of knowledge in the study of history. Thus, proving that increased knowledge, such as new evidence in the case of the guilty party in World War 1, leads to doubt of the preexisting theory, through which new conclusions can be established upon.In contrast, the negative and illegitimate distortion of revisionist history is labelled as “negationism”. In this case, doubt is used to distort information and mislead audiences, such as in the case of ideological and political control of the population during the regime of the Communist Party of Soviet Union. The party aimed to control historiography in order to promote the party’s ideology and ethno-racial imperialism. Many executed party members or party enemies were removed from photos, academic and popular historical records. An example would be Nikolai Yezhov, who was the head of the Soviet secret police, and after his execution in 1940, was censored from photos. Both the distortion of history and denial of historical truths have led to the regression of knowledge. In this regard, doubt certainly cannot be attributed as the key to knowledge as claimed. It can then be argued that it is rare when one knows with confidence, as pre-existing evidence can always be refuted. Nonetheless, doubt irrefutably plays a critical role in history as an area of knowledge. The absence of doubt would lead to possibly inaccurate conclusions formed by pre-established facts and notions. Hence, doubt in the role of acquiring historical knowledge is integral to future generations. It also proves that the possibility of knowing for certain, in terms of history, is virtually impossible as new evidence presented may However, doubt is sometimes unfeasible in the acquisition of knowledge, as for some examples, doubt cannot coexist with knowledge. Such as in the case of natural sciences, for example chemistry and physics, where numerical data and theorems cannot be refuted. Simply put, the laws of physics are universal as they remain the same across all space-time continuum. As these laws of science are often strongly backed up by empirical evidence, they are repeatedly verified to ensure the accuracy remains unchanged should new theories be worked out. An example of this would be Einstein’s Law of Attraction. This particular example further demonstrates that doubt is considered detrimental here in gaining of knowledge, as the stated law has already been proved as true, and supported by significant empirical evidence. Doubt in regards to pre established theories without substantial evidence to back it up would cause the regression of knowledge no new knowledge can be gained should uncertainty and doubt overtake certainty. This is labelled as an “empty claim” as it doubts a knowledge claim “without any appeal to evidence” (Craig, 2) hence is detrimental to knowledge as it pushes one to cling onto a possibly unprovable knowledge claim that could lead to the regression of knowledge. As doubt raises more questions rather than answers, if the amount of questions overwhelm the existing knowledge, the experiment undertaken would become increasingly complicated, thus the progress of acquiring knowledge is inhibited. This shows the implications of doubt in knowing on general knowledge, as doubt is only useful if it is used in a certain way. On the other hand, doubt in natural sciences is crucial to further development of knowledge. Although many would view the role of doubt in science as detrimental to the progress of acquiring knowledge, it is innately human and serves an important purpose. Here, the question of “how can more knowledge lead to doubt?” can be answered. In some cases, the acquired knowledge may present uncertainty.
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