“If you wish to strive for peace of soul and happiness, then believe; if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then inquire.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Perhaps belief is something that usually comes from inquiry, but it has a “softness” about it. It still implies a hint of uncertainty or unprovability. If you’ve followed a robust line of inquiry, one should be able to say “I know… ” at the end of it. If you are not yet able to say “I know… ” Then you just need to keep after the inquiry. “Belief” feels like resignation or acceptance… like “Well, I’m never going to know this for sure, but I’ll settle for belief and be happy with that”.

Let’s think about this a different way. A friend says one of two statements:

1) “I know it’s going to rain.”

Or

2) “I believe it’s going to rain.”

If it rains, then the first statement will be proved true, and your friend’s credibility bolstered. The more times he goes on being “right” about his known statements the more trustworthy he becomes.

If it doesn’t rain, then the first statement will be proved false, and you might lose a little trust in the things your friend says from here on out. It is incredibly risky to say “I know… ,” because your reputation and credibility are at stake. Do not say “I know” unless you are absolutely sure. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to say you know anything at all, which is why Socrates so wisely said “I know one thing; that I know nothing.” So, you’re better off speaking in probabilities; “It will probably rain.”

Consider the second statement. Regardless of whether it rains or not, the second statement is always true, because it’s not actually a statement about the rain, it’s a statement about your friend’s particular belief. It is true that he believes it. This is rather flaky because there is literally NO RISK in saying “I believe… ”

The phrase “I believe” is mostly useless. It sounds nice, and people find power in another’s belief, but it doesn’t advance the quest for real truth. People who say “I believe…” are cowards, hiding behind a statement that cannot be proved false.

A lot of us go around saying “I don’t know”, “probably” or “not-likely” most of the time, and many people find those to be wholly unsatisfactory answers. Being a disciple of truth is an never-ending and difficult path, but let your dissatisfaction motivate you forward.

Image Source: Moyan Brenn

2 thoughts on ““If you wish to strive for peace of soul and happiness, then believe; if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then inquire.”

  1. This is an interesting quote, in that I do not find the two mutually exclusive. Like many Christians, one of the reasons I believe is because I do inquire, and ask questions. “Believing” the answers of Jesus makes more sense to me than the thoughts or arguments of any other “philosophy.”

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    1. That’s interesting that you say that Jesus’ teachings make more sense to you than other philosophies. Why do you suppose that so many other people disagree and find other philosophies or religions more compelling? And for that matter, what about Jesus’ teachings do you find most compelling?

      I have a longer reply too, but I didn’t want to overwhelm or possibly get sidetracked 🙂

      Like

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