Faithlessness Renders All Things Impossible
We all know about the Doubting Game, AKA critical thinking, but this must be supplemented by the Believing Game. Each is "needed in order to examine and accept an idea as true."
I infer from Professor Wiki's brief explanation that Elbow believes that in the West we are disproportionately devoted to the Doubting Game. Like everything else, that's true as far as it goes, but we need to bear in mind how the most critical thinkers are often the most credulous wankers.
For example, it takes an offal lot of rancid meatheadedness to arrive at something as dubious as scientism, or leftism, or catastrophic manmade global warming. Which is just the instantiation of a more general principle, that certain ideas are so foolish that only a person with a great deal of formal education could believe them.
(Look at the heroically tortuous reasoning laid out yesterday in Justice Breyer's dissent. In it he goes to great lengths to reveal everything we detest about lawyerly thinking -- the "lawyer game" -- which abuses reason to arrive at the desired result. There are now four idiots on the Supreme Court who have convinced themselves
"that speech is a sort of public good held in a collective trust, to be limited or banned whenever the majority feels that the speech in question might not be being used in furtherance of the proper ends."
Or in other words, that we have the right to free speech so long as it pleases the state. Bottom lyin': the founders were way ahead of their time, in that they created a totalitarian state before Marx, Hitler, and Stalin were even born.)
Anyway, it looks to me as if Elbow is proposing a kind of methodological orthoparadoxy that will be familiar to Raccoons. "Skeptical doubting" looks for "flaws in thinking that might look good." But "really good thinking also calls on a complementary methodology: conditionally trying to believe all ideas in order to find virtues in thinking that looks wrong."
That's not the clearest of explanations, but it strikes me as similar to what we've discussed before under the rubric of mental metabolism and assimilation. In short, there are catabolic (tearing down) and anabolic (building up) components to productive thinking.
Or, one might consider the Believing Game to be thinking in the mode of faith. The irony is that the excessively critical thinker doesn't even realize he's playing the Believing Game, because he has covertly elevated doubt to the axis of his belief system.
For example, this is precisely what Descartes is driving at in the cogito: not I think, therefore I am, but really, I doubt that I exist, therefore I must exist (as the doubter).
But how could we possibly define ourselves in wholly negative terms? This is the problem with Popper's principle of falsification, which is true as far as it goes. That is, he maintains that a statement can only qualify as scientific if it is falsifiable, i.e., if conditions can be specified in which the statement would not be true.
Again, that's a wholly negative way of defining truth, so it leaves us with no leg to stand on except for our own corrosive doubt. Which then starts eating through the floor.
The problem is, how do we prevent doubt from being omniscient? After all, there is nothing essential to the human condition that we cannot subject to our ruthless doubt, including love, language, God, beauty, natural rights, free will, meaning, and the very possibility of knowing truth.
It's not so much that all things are possible with faith, but that faith makes all things possible. Monomaniacal doubt only renders all things impossible.