It is never lawful to stifle a doubt; for either it can be honestly answered by means of the inquiry already made, or else it proves that the inquiry was not complete. ~ William Kingdon Clifford
Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt. ~ William Shakespeare

Doubt is uncertainty in the context of trust, action, decision or belief. It implies challenging some notion of reality in effect.


  • If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.
  • Who never doubted, never half believed.
    Where doubt there truth is—'tis her shadow.
  • All doubt is cowardice — all trust is brave.


  • We should never believe anything we have not dared to doubt.
    • Christina, Queen of Sweden, Maxims of a Queen, selected and translated by Una Birch (London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1907), p. 27.
  • If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing itthe life of that man is one long sin against mankind.
  • Inquiry into the evidence of a doctrine is not to be made once for all, and then taken as finally settled. It is never lawful to stifle a doubt; for either it can be honestly answered by means of the inquiry already made, or else it proves that the inquiry was not complete.
  • He would not, with a peremptory tone,
    Assert the nose upon his face his own.
  • I slept with Faith, and found a corpse in my arms on awaking; I drank and danced all night with Doubt, and found her a virgin in the morning.


  • Another meme of the religious meme complex is called faith. It means blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence. The story of Doubting Thomas is told, not so that we shall admire Thomas, but so that we can admire the other apostles in comparison. Thomas demanded evidence. Nothing is more lethal for certain kinds of meme than a tendency to look for evidence. The other apostles, whose faith was so strong that they did not need evidence, are held up to us as worthy of imitation. The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.
  • Several years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of building from the foundation...



  • I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. ... it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. ... I'm not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here ... I might think about it a little bit ... but I don't have to know an answer, I don't feel frightened about not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it is as far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten me.



  • Is God fair? The Christians say that God damns forever anyone who is skeptical about truth of bunkistic religion as revealed unto the holy haranguers. What this means is that a God, if any, punishes a man for using his reason. If there is a God in existence, reasons should be available for his existence. Assuming that such a precious thing as a man's eternal future depends on his belief in a God, then the materials for that belief should be overwhelming and not at all doubtful. Yet here is a man whose reason makes it impossible for him to believe in a God. He sees no evidence of such an entity. He finds all the arguments weak and worthless. He doubts and he denies. Then is a God fair in visiting upon such a skeptic the penalty for his inevitable intellectual attitude? The intelligent man refuses to believe fairy tales. Can a God blame him? If so, then a God is not as fair as an ordinarily decent man. And fairness, we think, is more important than piety.
  • To have doubted one's own first principles is the mark of a civilized man.
  • To rest upon a formula is a slumber that, prolonged, means death.


  • Fear believes — courage doubts. Fear falls upon the earth and prays — courage stands erect and thinks. Fear is barbarism — courage is civilization. Fear believes in witchcraft, in devils and in ghosts. Fear is religion — courage is science.
  • I will not attack your doctrines nor your creeds if they accord liberty to me. If they hold thought to be dangerous — if they aver that doubt is a crime, then I attack them one and all, because they enslave the minds of men.


  • I may be wrong, and often am, but I never doubt.
    • Sir George Jessel, said to Lord Coleridge, in response to the question, "Have you no doubts about it, Jessel?", asked with regard to Jessel's judgment as to the Alabama claims. When later asked about the truth of the story, Jessel replied, "very likely, but Coleridge with his Constitutional inaccuracy has told it wrong. I can never have said 'often wrong'". Reported in Robert Q. Kelly and Frederic D. Donnelly, The Law Library: Proceedings, Sixth Biennial A.A.L.L. Institute for Law Librarians (1964) p. 51.
  • Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.


  • I do think it strange that people have doubted everything and have again reached certainty, without as much as dropping a word concerning the difficulties which have held my thought captive—so much so that I have, now and then, longed to be freed of them—freed by the aid of one, note well, who was aware of these difficulties, and not of one who in his sleep had a notion to doubt, and to have doubted, everything, and again in his sleep had the notion that he is explaining, and has explained, all.
    • Soren Kierkegaard In Vino Veritas, From Stages on Life's Way 1845 Lee M Hollanderr translation 1923
  • What is clear to one man may be doubtful to another.
    • Lord Kenyon, Godfrey v. Hudson (1788), 2 Esp. 500; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 172.
  • There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.


  • And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.


  • The doubtful beam long nods from side to side.


  • We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt.
  • The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.
    • Bertrand Russell, "The Triumph of Stupidity" (1933-05-10) in Mortals and Others: Bertrand Russell's American Essays, 1931-1935 (Routledge, 1998, ISBN 0-415-17866-5, p. 28.
  • William James used to preach the "will-to-believe." For my part, I should wish to preach the "will-to-doubt." None of our beliefs are quite true; all at least have a penumbra of vagueness and error. What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
    • Bertrand Russell, "Free Thought and Official Propaganda", Sceptical Essays (1928).


  • The Vammika Sutta likens skeptical doubt to a fork in the road. Say a traveler who is carrying many valuables arrives at a fork in the road; if he lingers there unable to decide which way to take, robbers may catch and possibly kill him. In the same way, a doubtful meditator who falls prey to wavering and procrastination cannot continue on with practice. He or she will then become a victim of mental defilements and be unable to escape the cycle of suffering. Only when he or she abandons doubt by noting it and uninterruptedly continues the practice can he or she be liberated from the cycle of suffering.
  • But yet, madam—
    I do not like, "but yet," it does allay
    The good precedence; fie upon "but yet!"
    "But yet" is a gaoler to bring forth
    Some monstrous malefactor.
  • To be, or not to be, that is the question:
    Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune;
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them?
  • But now I am cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd, bound in
    To saucy doubts and fears.


  • Doubt, indeed, is the disease of this inquisitive, restless age. It is the price we pay for our advanced intelligence and civilization. It is the dim night of our resplendent day. But as the most beautiful light is born of darkness, so the faith which springs from conflict is often the strongest and the best.


  • Only those who doubt really believe, and those who do not doubt are neither tempted against their faith nor do they truly believe.
    • Miguel de Unamuno, The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho (1914), Part 2, Ch. 10, in Selected Works of Miguel de Unamuno, Volume 3, translated by Anthony Kerrigan (Bollingen Series LXXXV.3/Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 174.
  • Those who do not doubt do not believe. Faith is maintained by resolving doubts, and again resolving those further doubts which are suggested by the resolution of previous doubts.
    • Miguel de Unamuno, The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho (1914), Part 2, Ch. 10, in Selected Works of Miguel de Unamuno, Volume 3, translated by Anthony Kerrigan (Bollingen Series LXXXV.3/Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 175.


  • La doute n'est pas un état bien agréable, mais l'assurance est un état ridicule.
    • Translation: Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.
    • Voltaire, letter to Frederick William, Prince of Prussia (28 November 1770), in S. G. Tallentyre (ed.), Voltaire in His Letters. New York: G. P. Putman's Sons, 1919, p. 232.



  • The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 200-01.
  • Non menno che saper, dubbiar m'aggrata.
    • Doubting charms me not less than knowledge.
    • Dante Alighieri, Inferno, XI. 93.
  • Uncertain ways unsafest are,
    And doubt a greater mischief than despair.
  • Doubt indulged soon becomes doubt realized.
  • When in doubt, win the trick.
    • Edmund Hoyle, Twenty-four rules for Learners, Rule 12.
  • He who dallies is a dastard,
    He who doubts is damned.
    • Attributed to George McDuffle, of South Carolina, during the "Nullification" period. Used by James Hamilton, when Governor of South Carolina. Also quoted by J. C. S. Blackburn, of Kentucky, in Congress, Feb. 1877, during the Hayes-Tilden dispute. Appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal (Col. Watterson, editor), during same dispute. (See also Romans, XIV. 23).
  • But the gods are dead—
    Ay, Zeus is dead, and all the gods but Doubt,
    And doubt is brother devil to Despair!
  • Fain would I but dare not; I dare, and yet I may not;
    I may, although I care not for pleasure when I play not.
  • And he that doubteth is damned if he eat.
    • Romans, XIV. 23.
  • To believe with certainty we must begin with doubting.
  • I follow my law and fulfil it all duly—and look! when your doubt runneth high—
    North points to the needle!
    • Edith M. Thomas, The Compass.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • Doubt comes in at the window when inquiry is denied at the door.
  • You ask bitterly, like Pontius Pilate, "What is truth?" In such an hour what remains? I reply, "Obedience." Leave those thoughts for the present. Act — be merciful and gentle — honest; force yourself to abound in little services; try to do good to others; be true in the duty that you know. That must be right, whatever else is uncertain. And by all the laws of the human heart, by the word of God, you shall not be left to doubt. Do that much of the will of God which is plain to you, and "You shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God."
  • To get rid of your doubts, part with your sin. Put away your intemperance, your dishonesty, your unlawful ways of making money, your sensuality, your falsehood, acted or spoken, and see if a holy life be not the best disperser of unwelcome doubts, and new obedience the most certain guide to fresh assurance.
  • Fear not to confront realities. The Saviour lives; and the first joy that you will give to Him is when, leaving off your false excuses, you throw yourself with a full heart and empty hands into His arms of mercy. The Saviour lives; and were you now to die looking for salvation only from that Friend of Sinners, verily this day should you be with Him in a better than Adam's paradise. The Saviour lives; and in full sympathy with that wondrous lover of men's souls, the Holy Spirit is even now ready if besought to begin His sanctifying process in your mind. The Saviour lives; and even now He stretches out toward you an arm which, if you only grasp in thankful love, your faith shall strengthen while you cling, and it will be from no weakness in that arm, if you are not erelong exalted to a point of holy attainment which at this moment you view with despair, and by and by to that region of unveiled realities where you will ask in wonder at yourself, "Wherefore did I doubt?"
  • Cold hearts are not anxious enough to doubt. Men who love will have their misgivings at times; that is not the evil. But the evil is, when men go on in that languid, doubting way, content to doubt, proud of their doubts, morbidly glad to talk about them, liking the romantic gloom of twilight, without the manliness to say, "I must and will know the truth." That did not John the Baptist. Brethren, John appealed to Christ.
  • People, when asked if they are Christians, give some of the strangest answers you ever heard. Some will say if you ask them: "Well — well — well, I, — I hope I am." Suppose a man should ask me if I am an American. Would I say: "Well, I — well, I — I hope I am?"

See also

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