Doubt, by definition, is the feeling of uncertainty about whether or not something is true. In contrast, confidence is the feeling and belief that something is true. Both doubt and confidence, despite being the antithesis of each other, affects the way knowledge is perceived. Areas of knowledge are unique branches of knowledge that have differing methods used to gain further knowledge.
Human sciences and history are areas of knowledge that are affected by doubt and confidence. In addition, the statement of how confidence is present when little is known in contrast to how doubt increases as more knowledge is acquired is supported by many real life situations and differing perspectives. The examination of history in this paper is in connection to the Holocaust and the perspectives different historians have on the event. With the assistance of mentioning how American history was originally derived, the positioning of certain historians on the spectrum of revisionism due to influences of doubt and skepticism becomes clear.
The examination of human sciences in this paper is in connection to the effectiveness of vaccines and how external factors such as beliefs and false evidence can increase one’s doubt. By analyzing these areas of knowledge, a larger view of two unique and differing opinions can be seen and further shows the changing levels of certainty and uncertainty. With each new generation, a new way of looking at the past often occurs which results in doubt regarding different events. This increase in doubt and subsequently skepticism, helps to encourage historians to do more research and find more primary sources to support their claims and theories.
This follows the theory of historical revisionism which allows historians the ability to reinterpret historical events and further provide evidence to support contrasting opinions. By finding and searching for more knowledge, the doubt as to whether or not the previous perception and assumptions of the details regarding the historical event are accurate increases. Many revisionists, however, use this doubt as motivation to find indisputable evidence to support their claims and beliefs of what truly happened. The details involving moral or ethical topics often produces controversy and debate when revisionists wants to revise them. The people who argue against revising such things and would even go to the extent of denying such events ever occurred are known as historical denialists. A real life situation that epitomizes this issue regarding revisionism is the Holocaust, which is filled with doubt due to the varying opinions and beliefs presented by people worldwide. Despite the historiography of historical revisionism being extremely useful as it updates history after new findings of evidence and information, skeptics and denialists often argue against using this historiography and prefer the orthodox views of specific historical events. The denialism of history rejects the entire foundation of historical evidence, which is a form of historical negationism. Many historians who support historical negationism refuse to accept laws, theories, and ideologies regarding historical events that are regarded as true by the majority of society.
By doing so, they express their doubt in regards to evidence and facts and instead directs their confidence towards the belief that specific historical events never happened. Despite how both a historical negationist and historical skeptic often deny that historical events ever occurred, the difference between the two would be that a skeptic “takes a scientific approach to the evaluation of claims”(Florien, 2010) while a negationist is someone who often “automatically gainsays a claim regardless of the evidence for it”.(Florien, 2010) Such is the case for the Holocaust as many historians are skeptical to all the details of the Holocaust while some even go as far as denying that it ever occurred.
By rejecting all evidence, an ironic twist to Goethe’s question is seen because with the ignorance and rejection of specific knowledge and evidence, a sense of confidence grows in regards to the Holocaust never happening. Goethe establishes the fact that when little is known, an individual’s confidence is high which can be true but can also mislead many individuals. Being that only a few perspectives and opinions are known about a certain event, the extent of one’s confidence in regards to the limited knowledge increases which does not give a full understanding and perspective of the event or situation. By increasing the perspectives and evidence, the gaining of knowledge helps to provide an increasing sense of doubt towards the orthodox views and beliefs. This is the case for which historian David Williams argues for. Being that, for example, past American history was primarily written by white males, history was written to “serve their own class, race, and gender interests at the expense of those not so fortunate”. Only a portion (arguably the minority) of the population was represented, the other portion of individuals doubted the limited perspectives and information provided to them which ironically contradicts Goethe’s statement.
As a result, historical revisionism is arguably needed to adjust the frame of perspective in regards to different historical events. In doing so, historical revisionists revised the way history was written and with the assistance of feminists and other movements and organizations, the confidence of the portion of the population that was originally unrepresented increased.
A paradigm shift is when newly developed thinking or ways of doing things changes the original ways and can result in new information. An increase in knowledge results in more doubt and can be connected to why the paradigm shifts in order to adapt to the new knowledge. A real life situation that exemplifies this is the usage and development of vaccines. The usage of vaccines is filled with doubt in many different countries despite it being scientifically proven to be helpful to society. The reasoning behind the doubt for the effectiveness of vaccines is often times influenced by religion, beliefs, and even news articles that promote false data. In the context of the influence that religion has on the human sciences, many people of faith believe that it is ethically wrong to “use human tissue cells to create vaccines” (The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 2017) and that “the body is sacred…and should be healed by God or natural means”.(ibid) Many people have grown up in families of religion and have adapted to these familial religious ways. Because of this, their confidence in the knowledge that has been a part of their lives is extremely strong and by putting their trust in religion, many people of faith doubt outside information regarding vaccinations and often times don’t take in consideration the new perspective of science. In the context of the promotion of false data, media output has steadily increased due to the development and innovation of new technology.
Because of this, society has become easily exposed to new information, which according to Goethe, increases doubt. Often times, society is told to trust their “intuition, but given no clear guidelines for distinguishing it from superstition, paranoia, or misinterpretation”(Lewis, 2017). When news outlets produce false evidence and information regarding vaccinations and people are continuously exposed to it, their doubt and skepticism steadily increases which influences one’s ability to trust the effectiveness of vaccines. Two antithetical schools of thought for the human sciences are naturalism and interpretivism and can be applied to the doubt and confidence regarding vaccines. From a naturalist perspective, scientific investigations should be objectively done where personal beliefs and religion do not influence the investigator or the investigated. Sociologist Emile Durkheim “typified the naturalist approach to human science, and sought to understand questions using purely objective evidence.(ibid)
In contrast, the interpretivist approach would be that not only is being completely objective impossible but also undesirable. A follower of this approach was Max Weber. “Far from advocating that you could remain objective and distant, and observe social phenomena from a removed position (as Durkheim believed), Weber said that you had to develop an empathy with the people you were studying, and understand the meaning that they themselves placed on their actions.” (Dunn, 2013) The naturalist approach would help to reduce doubt and skepticism in regards to the effectiveness of vaccines as it would seek to remove personal beliefs from science. By doing so, scientific evidence would be a major deciding factor for the effectiveness of vaccines and subsequently increase confidence, according to Goethe. In contrast, the interpretivist approach would include familial beliefs and even the influence of false news as it helps individuals make decisions that would be correct for them. In doing so, despite how doubt increases due to many outside factors and knowledge, the confidence when an individual makes a personal decision increases which conflicts with Goethe’s statement. “Divergent cultural perspectives and opinions toward vaccination, including libertarian and religious objections, as well as vaccine suspicions, signal the need for continued communication and collaboration between medical and public health officials and the public regarding acceptable and effective immunization policies.”(The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 2017) History and human science as areas of knowledge provide excellent perspectives and real life situations that help to support and oppose Goethe’s statement.
When viewing each area of knowledge with opposing schools of thought and historiographies, one must analyze both positions in order to develop a balanced perspective. In the human sciences, doubt and confidence plays a huge role in making decisions that can influence one’s life. The doubt that is produced during new scientific developments and advancements due to personal beliefs or external factors epitomizes Goethe’s statement. In history, evidence and information about certain historical events is often victim to doubt and skepticism due to differing perspectives and a plethora of personal beliefs.