It seems that a true and deep acceptance of being ignorant may be the most valuable awareness any human being may have, and because the converse goes to so many potentials of wrongdoing. Throughout human history it is clear that absolute certainty often leads to unethical behaviors or even violent abuses on the largest of scales. For example, the Inquisitors of Spain did not ever doubt that heretics were engaged in sinful thinking or that they were obligated to punish and torture heretics.
This form of certainty, never allowing for any other possibility, then defied the spirit of the Church itself as it brought horror to thousands. When we doubt, we are true to the fundamental reality that there are ideas or actual matters we may not understand, or which have a value apart from what we ourselves believe. This then goes to strength and freedom because it provides the best kind of confidence. The doubting person is enabled to consider points of view different from their own, and this clearly implies the strength of character willing to accept realities that may be inconvenient or even disturbing. Ultimately, to know that we cannot know a great deal translates to accepting the new and unexpected, and this promotes real human virtue because it undermines any motive to control or judge others.
While an innate understanding of our own ignorance is critical, doubt itself is a “double-edged sword, in a sense. More exactly, it becomes very easy to extend doubt too far and then unjustly consider possibilities based only on the quality of possibility itself. At some point there is a human obligation to trust in a foundation of knowing, and knowing based on both information and ethics. This is clearly seen in the film, Doubt. Sister Aloysius has some reason to believe that the parish priest, Father Flynn, may be involved in inappropriate behavior with a young boy in their school. What occurs is that she allows her doubts to overshadow other possibilities; the doubt actually is translated to suspicion, and this is a very real danger of considering possibilities. In the film, fear of something wrong dominates the Sister’s doubts, and this creates a kind of ignorance in itself.
Uncertain of what is going on between the priest and the boy, the Sister allows her perspective to be severe and only the worst becomes what she believes. More exactly, it is doubt fueled by personal views of immorality, so other possibilities of motive on the priest’s part are eliminated by the growing belief in wrong as most probable. Ironically, doubt here becomes certainty, and this is a likelihood whenever we go too far in doubting, or permit it to be confined to expecting only the what is wrong. In plain terms, then, doubt all too often is influenced by thinking that is removed from doubt itself. It becomes a focus, and one directed to confirm thinking opposed to the openness that should be “doubt.”
Trusting absolutely to our knowledge of ignorance provides us with what may be the most important of perspectives, and this relates to both courage in the face of death and the separation of the soul from the body. Without question, death is always the “great unknown,” and no matter our faith in an afterlife. Even the strongest faith, by its very definition, relies on ignorance because it is wholly a matter of trust with no evidence supporting it. To believe or “know” that death is the ultimate end then likely generates fear. The concept is too much for the human mind to grasp, but it is still a fearful one because, simply, it means the end of life as it is known. When, however, we accept that there is much we cannot know, we are able to consider all possibilities, which translates to death as by no means being an end.
If we think there is a soul or at least “doubt” that being human is only a physical and mental state, we have reason to believe that death is not the end, and logically is nothing more than the soul’s leaving the body. Once this is entertained as possible, and to any degree, we may then feel strong in facing death itself. From personal experience, I have at times thought that doubting death’s finality is a visceral process within us. Something, I think, informs us that there is more. This also then reinforces the value and strength of doubt, because accepting our ignorance as applied to everything includes even the reality of death, and we are enabled to discard fears based on certainty of nothingness.
As Nietzsche presents the “death” of God, he refers more to the loss of any human belief in a moral and guiding force. To some extent this is not removed from the Socratic knowledge of ignorance, if in an extreme form. If we cannot be sure of anything because we are human and must consider all possibilities, it is then necessary to accept that no God rules the universe. We must acknowledge that there may be no structure or purpose, so Socrates is somewhat in accord with Nietzsche. The difference, however, lies in the absolute quality of Nietzsche’s belief in a complete lack of Christian morals based on the presence of God as gone. In plain terms, and even as Nietzsche himself reflects on the possibility of no God, this goes to the kind of certainty Socratic ignorance defies. On one level, Socrates’s thinking demands that the death of God be considered. On another, importantly, it also cannot take this as real, and because that would eliminate the critical need to doubt. Doubt is in fact most removed from certainty because it is a continually living and changing process, whereas any certainty is fixed. For Nietzsche, chaos must result with the death of God, but even this goes to a conviction that doubt will never fully permit. As Nietzsche actually reflects on the death of God as inevitably enabling chaos through the loss of moral order, it then becomes more critical to apply doubt. In all circumstances, human beings must accept that ignorance is the human condition because there will always be that which the human does not yet know.