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On Doubt

2014
Author:

Vilém Flusser

On Doubt

An attempt to overcome the Cartesian method through an existential analysis of language

On Doubt is a treatise on the human intellect, its relation to language, and the reality-forming discourses that subsequently emerge. For Vilém Flusser, the faith that the modern age places in Cartesian doubt plays a role similar to the one that faith in God played in previous eras—a faith that needs to be challenged.

On Doubt will no doubt appeal to Flusser aficionados and newcomers alike, as well as many students of postcolonial philosophy willing to embrace radical mutations in traditional Western thinking.

Forum for Modern Language Studies

In On Doubt, Vilém Flusser refines Martin Heidegger’s famous declaration that “language is the dwelling of Being.” For Flusser, “the word is the dwelling of being,” because in fact, in the beginning, there was the word.

On Doubt is a treatise on the human intellect, its relation to language, and the reality-forming discourses that subsequently emerge. For Flusser, the faith that the modern age places in Cartesian doubt plays a role similar to the one that faith in God played in previous eras—a faith that needs to be challenged. Descartes doubts the world through his proposition cogito ergo sum, but leaves doubt itself untouched as indubitable and imperious. His cogito ergo sum may have proved to the Western intellect that thoughts exist, but it did not prove the existence of that which thinks: one can eliminate thinking and yet continue being.

Therefore, should we not doubt doubt? Should we not try to go beyond this last step of Cartesian doubt and look for a new faith? The twentieth century has seen many attempts to defeat Cartesian doubt, but this doubt of doubt has instead generated a complete loss of faith, which the West experiences as existential nihilism. Hence, the emergent emptying of values results from such extreme doubt. Everything loses its meaning. Can this climate be overcome? Will the West survive the modern age?

On Doubt

Vilém Flusser (1920–1991) is increasingly recognized as one of the most influential thinkers of digital and global culture.

Rodrigo Maltez Novaes is a translator and research fellow at the Vilém Flusser Archive.

Siegfried Zielinski is professor of mediology and technoculture at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.

On Doubt

On Doubt will no doubt appeal to Flusser aficionados and newcomers alike, as well as many students of postcolonial philosophy willing to embrace radical mutations in traditional Western thinking.

Forum for Modern Language Studies