Don Quixote


Chet Raymo’s Science Musings blogs allows him to expand on his themes that the pivot of discord in the modern world views is not between ‘Religion vs. Science’, but ‘Sceptics and True Believers’ that is argued so eloquently in his namesake book. While scepticism is core to the scientific principle it is less associated with faith-centred religion. But one of Chet’s posts, In Praise of Doubt, uses the story of Don Quixtote, appropriate today being the anniversary of Cervantes death, to illustrate the poignancy of the religious doubt…

  • “Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote — a takeoff on the great Cervantes classic. It’s odd, he thought, as he steered Rocinante with undue caution round a curve, how sharing a sense of doubt can bring men together perhaps even more than sharing a faith. The believer will fight another believer over shades of difference: the doubter fights only with himself. It was good to spend of few days last week in the back seat of Rocinante, listening to Father Quixote and the Mayor muddle their way through life, committed to their respective world views, each confident that his way is better than any alternative, but open to the possibility that they might be wrong, and, if only inadvertently, to learning from the other. What a relief from the stridency and certainty of the True Believers of all stripes who presently dominate the American media, and, as always, world affairs. Father Quixote makes a distinction between belief and faith. One can’t always believe, he says, but one can have faith. His own faith is hedged with doubt, which is not a comfortable place to be, but at least he is not picking a fight with anyone but himself. "Oh, Sancho, Sancho," exclaims the man of faith, ‘it’s an awful thing not to have doubts.’”

Today is also the anniversary of the death of philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard 870 years ago and also the subject of one of Chet’s posts ‘Sic et Non’ on the role of embracing the failure of wisdom even in the dogmatic domain of religion…

  • Richard Capobianco’s explanation of what philosophers do — or should do — strikes me as on the mark. So, to put it simply, good philosophy keeps our unknowing in view, and therefore keeps us thinking, keeps us questioning, keeps us wondering. Good philosophy keeps us unsettled in our knowing. Yes, it would be good to have a department in every college and university whose function is to remind us of the limitations of our knowing. There is enough dogmatism to go around, enough pompous posturing, even in philosophy departments. Maybe the ‘wisdom’ we should all learn to ‘love’ is the possibility that we might be wrong, and that the answers to some questions might be beyond our grasp. Legend has it that the 12th-century philosopher Peter Abelard’s last words were ‘I don’t know.’ He was best known in his time as a charismatic teacher and provocative thinker who was not adverse to challenging the smug certainties of the establishment — and his rambunctious young students cheered him on. Systematically applied doubt was his ‘master key to wisdom.’”


Peter Abelard