Doubt : A History - The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson

  • ISBN13:


  • ISBN10:


  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-12-29
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

Note: Supplemental materials are not guaranteed with Rental or Used book purchases.

Purchase Benefits

  • Free Shipping On Orders Over $35!
    Your order must be $35 or more to qualify for free economy shipping. Bulk sales, PO's, Marketplace items, eBooks and apparel do not qualify for this offer.
  • Get Rewarded for Ordering Your Textbooks! Enroll Now
List Price: $16.99 Save up to $8.49
  • Rent Book $11.04
    Add to Cart Free Shipping


Supplemental Materials

What is included with this book?

  • The New copy of this book will include any supplemental materials advertised. Please check the title of the book to determine if it should include any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.
  • The Used and Rental copies of this book are not guaranteed to include any supplemental materials. Typically, only the book itself is included. This is true even if the title states it includes any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.


A study on the role of skepticism in the development of intellectual and religious history celebrates the doubt-related activities of such figures as the Buddha, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Jefferson, noting their achievements as proponents for creativity, intellectual progress, and social change. Reprint. 25,000 first printing.

Table of Contents

Introduction Doubt Is No Shadow: A Quiz and a Guide to the Question ix
Whatever Happened to Zeus and Hera?, 600 BCE-1 CE
Greek Doubt
Smacking the Temple, 600 BCE-1 CE
Doubt and the Ancient Jews
What the Buddha Saw, 600 BCE-1 CE
Ancient Doubt in Asia
When in Rome in Doubt, 50 BCE-200 CE
Empire of Reason
Christian Doubt, Zen, Elisha, and Hypatia, 1-800 CE
Late-Classical Mix
Medieval Doubt Loops-the-Loop, 800-1400
Muslims to Jews to Christians
The Printing Press and the Age of Martyrs, 1400-1600
Renaissance and Inquisition
Sunspots and White House Doubters, 1600-1800
Revolutions in the Authority of Reason
Doubt's Bid for a Better World, 1800-1900
Freethinking in the Age of Science and Reform
Principles of Uncertainty, 1900-
The New Cosmopolitan
Conclusion The Joy of Doubt: Ethics, Logic, Mood 484(11)
Notes 495(26)
Bibliography 521(8)
Acknowledgments 529(2)
Index 531


Doubt: A History
The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson

Chapter One

Whatever Happened
to Zeus and Hera?,

600 BCE -- 1 CE
Greek Doubt

When we look for doubt among the ancients, in the West we are goingto find the most lively cases in the Hellenistic period -- the few hundredyears between the dominance of Classical Greece and that of ClassicalRome.It's not surprising that an in-between period is our main focus:human beings define which are the pinnacle moments of history and whichare the in-between moments, and we tend to choose moments of certainty aspinnacles. We praise and envy the certainty, dedication, and meaningfulnessof such moments, whether we look at ancient Greece or at a small town inearly America. In our modern lives, many of us actively cultivate our differencesfrom these unified communities, in defense of privacy and autonomy.Yet we tend to laud them and long for them, because the ideal members ofthese societies seem to have been so well nourished by them; intellectuallyand emotionally, they do not seem bereft. We moderns can't cotton to theconstraints and gross inequalities—ideal membership is usually limited, havingto do with gender, heredity, and/or wealth -- but we marvel at the generalideas of the group, at the rich and jubilant belonging, and at the ideal members'noble and satisfying engagement in civic affairs. Our quickest shorthandfor the past is a list of these highly principled moments, their breakdown, andthe birth of the next. So the history of doubt looks different than other histories,because it highlights what goes on between periods of certainty: it's like seeing a map upside down -- it takes time for the new contours to take shape.The history of being awake to certain contradictions of our condition is thenegative image of the history of certainty.

Hence, while usual histories of the ancient world would linger on thecertainty of Classical Greece and then rush through its dissolution over thenext few hundred years, I will briefly discuss Greek piety and then linger onthe budding of doubt at the end of the Classical age and its blooming in theHellenistic period that followed.

In the heyday of the ancient Greek polis, or city-state, the gods over-sawa very well integrated society. Although every society has some senseof itself as old, as having seen a lot, this was a society with a primary relationshipto its religious ideas, and the strength of each of the many poleishad a lot to do with this primary certainty, this lack of doubt. Ideally, youlived for the polis, you worshiped its particular gods, you knew most fellowmembers by face, and you took part in its governance and defense. Itwas the central object of identity, politics, and religion. It was an identitythat was bigger than the self and bigger than the family. It was oftenuncomfortable for people to subordinate themselves thusly, but they wereextraordinarily well nurtured in doing so.

The polis assuaged confusion and doubt because it was something midwaybetween the world of humanness and the universe at large, and couldserve as a shelter. If humanity's central existential difficulty comes from thefact that we have humanness -- consciousness, hopes, dreams, loneliness,shame, plans, memory, a sense of fairness, love -- and the universe does not,that means that we are constantly trying to wrangle our needs out of a universethat does not tend in such directions. The polis expanded humannessso it seemed longer-lived and larger. The aim of each person's life is to do hisor her part in the polis, to serve in a given capacity, to worship the gods ofthe polis, to fight, to procreate, to keep the thing going.

The Olympian gods were not very remote from humanity. They hadn'tcreated human beings. They were immortal but not eternal. They wereoften heroic, but they were not particularly honorable in their dealings withone another or with human beings. They were imminent in human life andin the environment: they brought meaningful dreams to sleepers and threwthunderbolts when they were angry. They even lived nearby, on MountOlympus. They also gave an external cause for human inconsistency orillogic, such as the mystery of why certain people find each other attractiveand lovable -- as if struck by an arrow. Along with the gods, there were the even more immediate daemons, vaguely drawn embodiments of occult power.Sometimes they were doing a god's bidding; at other times they weredescribed as the enacting force of the moment, animating someone to heroism,great speed, or tragic error.

At the height of their cult, the Olympic gods of the Greeks werethought of as very real -- not at all the equivalent of parables or half-believedfairy tales. The sun did rise every day, it was indeed the source of all life, itwas perfectly consistent in its behavior, and its rising and setting was avision of spectacular beauty. If we call immense, nonhuman power gods orGod, then it is purely descriptive to say that the god Apollo drives his chariotacross the sky every day, and perfectly appropriate to express awe at thesight of it. It may be a bit less obvious that Eros is a purely descriptive per-sonificationof erotic love, because we don't believe that erotic love exists asa thing outside of human beings. Yet passion can seem to hit us from theoutside, and that's how the Greeks saw it.

The great authorities of the culture were Homer and Hesiod, poets whohad crafted wonderful praise poems detailing the historical adventures ofthe gods. In these stories, people were driven in and out of wars, friendships,and adventures because of the whims or ardent desires of gods.Everyone knew these stories, and for centuries upon centuries the lives ofordinary Greeks were interpreted within this engaging and satisfying, if alsodisturbing, context ...

Doubt: A History
The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson
. Copyright © by Jennifer Hecht. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Doubt a History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Hecht
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Rewards Program

Write a Review