The Value of Existential Doubts
Updated: Nov 14, 2019
The short answer: it will make you a better person, but we knew I wasn't going to leave it at that.
What is an existential crisis? It's when a person questions the purpose of their existence. This may be boiled down to the value of doubt in general. When thinking of moments of doubt, crises, or moral quandary, we don't typically think of it as a good thing. True, it is very uncomfortable, but thank goodness we have them.
There is a YouTuber I watch. I disagree with most of what he says, but I value hearing opposition to my thoughts. The name of his channel is called Mr. Atheist. He states that having doubts is great because it means you're about to learn something. With this point, I couldn't agree more. Taking your beliefs and evaluating them in an honest way is the best way to learn. If you're right in your beliefs, there is no need for deceiving others and yourself. If your beliefs hold true, they will still be true through the tests of logic, no matter how rigorous.
Importance of Truth
Why value truth? The objectivist might say truth has inherent value. The relativist might say it has no intrinsic value, the value of truth is dependent on each person. Truth does not always promote the good. Sometimes the true knowledge hurts. Is the truth good for the truth’s own sake? Personally, I would say no. This pushes my subjectivity onto the matter, but this is my blog, so why not? I think generally nothing has intrinsic value. I think individuals give meaning and value to things. I don't think the truth is good for its own sake specifically because the truth doesn't promote the general good. Truth isn't morality, it's fact. Facts aren't moral or immoral, they just reign true, void of good or bad. Knowing the truth CAN help people promote goodness, but truth in and of itself does not.
I value truth because I think it is the best measurement and understanding of reality. We must value truth in general to then go about valuing moral truths.
When people say philosophy is not applicable in the real world, I understand where they're coming from. Most likely they are picturing old professors sitting in a room asking the open-ended question "why?". In that sense, I get it. Why bother? However, philosophy is the rationale behind our morals. If you have morals this has to matter a little bit. One doesn't have to be intrigued by philosophy to examine their own morals.
Danger of Blind Beliefs
Blind beliefs and morals can be dangerous. Most people who blindly believe aren't thinking, "oh yeah, I'm blindly following the leader". That'd be ridiculous. Most likely the things we were brought up with we've just accepted as inherent truths. This can be as small as a minor disdain for people who differ from us, or as big as Nazism.
This doesn't mean what we're brought up with is always bad, but you'll feel better about what you believe knowing you've run your beliefs through critical thinking and they remain true, rather than saying, "better not risk it", just in case you happen to be wrong.
Is the truth not worth momentarily sacrificing your moral comfort?
Panic in the Presence of Logical Fallacies
Logical fallacies are not something anyone wants to experience in their belief system, because morality is like a wadded up ball of yarn. With that one doubt you have it's like pulling one end of the tangled ball, and if you keep pulling the whole thing might fall apart. Because of this fear, people stay in their bubble, blind to doubts. They've lived this way for so long. What if it's wrong? What if I'm a bad person? What if I was a bad person? Does God still love me? Am I going to hell for having doubts?
Existential fears are typically based on black and white thinking.
"I'm either good or bad. I'm terrified of being bad. If I stay in this mindset I can avoid hell and be a good person."
For most people, it's never too late to be good. If you notice a flaw in your belief system the only way to fix it is to pull the string and watch the yarn unravel. It will reveal the flaws and you'll find and build moral truths. Most likely, not everything you thought before was wrong, not even close. Maybe it was the glue holding it together, or one rogue thought that was fear-based and not morally based. You can't be a morally good person without evaluating your morals at some point.
Example: You believe wearing mixed fabrics is bad. A doubt pops into your head, you can't shut it out. "what if I'm wrong?" You decide to think about it. "I believe this because of God's word. God sets these rules in place for the good of humanity. Can I prove without biblical context that this is still bad, because if it is objectively bad for humanity, it will be bad outside the biblical text as well." You conclude that it is an inconsistency, and adjust your moral framework accordingly.
There's Always Room for Improvement
Most people are morally grey. This isn't justifying doing bad things, but because human morality is so elastic and ever-changing, it's impossible to be perfectly good all the time. There are of course morally reprehensible people, but they do not make up the majority, and probably aren't taking the time to question the morality of their actions anyway.
These crises don't feel good in the moment, but in the long run, you'll be a better, and more morally honest person.
People should give credence to their doubts. If you keep pushing them down they will erupt with a huge existential crisis where your morality will feel like it's falling apart. If people were to just look into their moral frameworks a little more frequently, I think it would serve them better, making for less existential crises.