I think Albert Camus got it right when he said, “Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined.”
I live for this feeling of being undermined. Unfortunately, since college, it hasn’t happened that often. It’s difficult to describe the feeling. It’s disorienting and scary, but thrilling at the same time.
I may be speaking too vaguely, so I’ll use a very basic example. Prior to traveling overseas, my concept of the world was: (don’t yell at me) America and then some other little countries that try to be America. Traveling overseas and living a life in another country made me realize something – America is just another country, among tons of other countries! This might sound ridiculous, but it was a huge shift in perspective for me at a young age.
A similar undermining happened when I read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. He articulated the fear that I had that our view of the world is not the over-arching, be-all, and end-all view of the world. Rather, it’s just the human view. We are not overseers of the world, we are part of it. It follows that as long as I am a human part of the world, I will only be able to see the world through a human lens. My understanding is necessarily limited by what I am. This means I won’t be able to understand the world as it is in-itself, or as anything else besides what it is when it appears to a human.
…This is huge. Science no longer tells us how things really are, but only how we see them. Religion no longer tells us whether there is really a G-d, but only whether we perceive there to be one. If this isn’t “being undermined,” then I don’t know what is.
A good education should instill a will-to-be-undermined in this way in students. I think the problem with a lot of people today is that they have the exact opposite problem – they refuse to challenge their own thinking. They think, or rather they know that “truth” exists, and that it is easy to find. For example, if a man is found guilty of a crime, then that is the truth. He committed the crime, and he should be punished for it. But, when we remember our position – that we are not the final interpreters of the world, but merely things in the world limited to our own way of understanding – it changes one’s perspective, and what is truth, and even whether it exists, becomes a little less certain. This kind of thinking infuses a caution into decision-making. A caution that is especially important when deciding whether to lock a person up or not.