Certainty and Doubt

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William Lyon Phelps stated an absolute certainty will make anything possible, but Bertrand Russell believed that our opinions should always have some sort of doubt. This conflict between optimism and doubt is most importantly meant to be kept balanced. This balance of doubt and optimism can be seen in the real world in many ways such as in sports or school.

When Phelps said that we need to have an “absolute sense of certainty,” he meant a setting your mind to it mentality. If you can imagine it then you can do it. This however, is not healthy and must be counteracted by Russell’s statement by always having “some measure of doubt.” When the two are together and balanced, a healthy state of being is created, in which a person would always have confidence, but their doubt would drive them to work harder in order to succeed. This is seen often in the world of sports. Right before a big match, many players will do something such as listen to music or pump each other up before the game. This action rids the mind of negative thoughts and doubts. Of course it doesn’t create a complacent state of mind where a guaranteed victory is ensured, but it creates a healthy balance of doubt and optimism that makes players efficient athletes. The same can be seen in schools. Before an exam, students are almost always nervous. It is very difficult to approach a test with a one-hundred percent optimistic outlook. This large sense of doubt may seem impossible to balance, but the act of studying is what creates the optimism that students need, even if they do not realize it. When a student studies, he or she subconsciously feels better about what they know about a subject. They feel more confident going into an exam, and are maintaining a healthy balance of doubt and optimism. Russell’s statement of having “SOME measure of doubt” is more accurate that Phelps’ comment in that nothing is approached with an absolute sense of failure or doubt. If human’s lived lives filled with doubt,...
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