The process of knowing is beset with paradox. Socrates defines it succintly in his dialogue with Meno: “man cannot seek what he knows (he already has it), and he cannot seek what he does not know.” For Socrates learning was recollection. Truth resides in the person, learning unearths that truth hidden in memory. The Socratic method is a method of questioning that teases out the truth.
What does that truth teased out truth tell us? That we don’t know. What is revealed is the truth of the untruth people “chose” to live in. This is why the Athenians poisoned Socrates and quelled his incessant questioning. The iconolastic Socrates just would not leave the Athenians alone in their untruths. Socratic heckling is dangerous (for both parties).
Untruth hates truth and so talks in language of absolutes. It is the unrepentant that is set in their mind. To be repentant is to admit mistake, lies in one’s life. To discover truth, we must constantly let go of the “truths” that we hold onto. Doubt, then, is a condition for truth. Doubt is not an enemy but a partner of truth.
But is not doubt a slippery slope where it is impossible to regain one’s footing before falling into a pit of cynicism, entangled in the vines of relativism? Doubt is not only slippery but the incline is steep. The fall is injurious but even in fall one lands on solid ground, that is, one discovers that doubt itself is possible only on the ground of truth. This is what Descartes discovered in his journey down the “center of doubt,” he hit the indubitable reality of himself thinking these doubts. Truth, it seems, is also the condition for doubt. From that famous maxim “I think therefore I am” Descartes not only crawled out from cynicism but made it out to life-affirming truths of a gracious divinity.
C.S. Lewis autographed his book, The Great Divorce, to his future wife Joy with these words: “There are three images in my mind which I must continually forsake and replace by better ones: the false image of God, the false image of my neighbors, and the false image of myself.” The paradox of knowing churns in our daily life in this manner, the daily doubts of our knowing towards something more real than a minute ago.