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Philosophers are supposed to be doubters. When we think of ­Socrates, the patron saint and martyr of philosophy, we usually fix on the early Platonic dialogues, which depict him as a man who defended no positive doctrine but was such a nuisance with his doubt-inducing questions that the guardians of Athenian orthodoxies put him to death. The Descartes of the introductory philosophy course is cast in a similar mold. He is not the “methodological doubter” who questioned common beliefs only in order to establish his philosophy on the confident foundations of reason’s “clear and distinct ideas.” Rather, for college freshmen, he is the solitary cogitator, sitting in a dark room, wondering whether anything, even his own existence, is beyond doubt. In this conception of the life of the mind, so common in today’s pedagogy, a believing philosopher is almost a contradiction in terms. He is unduly certain that reason can deliver true beliefs on religious topics, or on any topic of consequence. Or he is a fideist who wills his convictions rather than arriving at them through patient consideration of facts, probabilities, and arguments.

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