Thus, by science I mean, first of all, a worldview giving primacy to reason and observation and a methodology aimed at acquiring accurate knowledge of the natural and social world. This methodology is characterized, above all else, by the critical spirit: namely, the commitment to the incessant testing of assertions through observations and/or experiments — the more stringent the tests, the better — and to revising or discarding those theories that fail the test. One corollary of the critical spirit is fallibilism: namely, the understanding that all our empirical knowledge is tentative, incomplete and open to revision in the light of new evidence or cogent new arguments (though, of course, the most well-established aspects of scientific knowledge are unlikely to be discarded entirely).. . . I stress that my use of the term 'science' is not limited to the natural sciences, but includes investigations aimed at acquiring accurate knowledge of factual matters relating to any aspect of the world by using rational empirical methods analogous to those employed in the natural sciences. (Please note the limitation to questions of fact. I intentionally exclude from my purview questions of ethics, aesthetics, ultimate purpose, and so forth.) Thus, 'science' (as I use the term) is routinely practiced not only by physicists, chemists and biologists, but also by historians, detectives, plumbers and indeed all human beings in (some aspects of) our daily lives. (Of course, the fact that we all practice science from time to time does not mean that we all practice it equally well, or that we practice it equally well in all areas of our lives.)
A friend or an enemy can tell me something about my subjective being, a casual lover can judge my body — the man I love judges my entire being. Every one of his caresses tells me how I am: attractive, desirable. Every one of his questions and answers tells me what I am: a person with whom he wants to enjoy himself, who interests him more than all the others he knows. By choosing me among all others, my love has made me unique; I alone in all the world am the one he loves, and no other. If I am lucky in love, the definitions become more precise from day to day; after each date I know even better than before what I want to know about myself. The others can say what they like about me; I don't have to believe a word of it. Only the one I love can tell me about myself. Since his definitions grow increasingly precise, my dependence on him also grows more acute as time goes on, but he is in the same position with regard to me. I tell him that I belong to him alone, that he can do with me what he likes, that I cannot live without him.
Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as Socrates; as old as the writer who said, 'Try all things, hold fast by that which is good'; it is the foundation of the Reformation, which simply illustrated the axiom that every man should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him, it is the great principle of Descartes; it is the fundamental axiom of modern science. Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic position, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.The results of the working out of the agnostic principle will vary according to individual knowledge and capacity, and according to the general condition of science. That which is unproved today may be proved, by the help of new discoveries, tomorrow. The only negative fixed points will be those negations which flow from the demonstrable limitation of our faculties. And the only obligation accepted is to have the mind always open to conviction.That it is wrong for a man to say he is certain of the objective truth of a proposition unless he can provide evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what agnosticism asserts and in my opinion, is all that is essential to agnosticism.
When I reached intellectual maturity, and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until at last I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure that they had attained a certain 'gnosis'--had more or less successfully solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. And, with Hume and Kant on my side, I could not think myself presumptuous in holding fast by that opinion ...So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of 'agnostic'. It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the 'gnostic' of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant; and I took the earliest opportunity of parading it at our Society, to show that I, too, had a tail, like the other foxes.
Most people are afflicted with an inability to say what they see or think. They say there’s nothing more difficult than to define a spiral in words; they claim it is necessary to use the unliterary hand, twirling it in a steadily upward direction, so that human eyes will perceive the abstract figure immanent in wire spring and a certain type of staircase. But if we remember that to say is to renew, we will have no trouble defining a spiral; it’s a circle that rises without ever closing. I realize that most people would never dare to define it this way, for they suppose that defining is to say what others want us to say rather than what’s required for the definition. I’ll say it more accurately: a spiral is a potential circle that winds round as it rises, without ever completing itself. But no, the definition is still abstract. I’ll resort to the concrete, and all will become clear: a spiral is a snake without a snake, vertically wound around nothing. All literature is an attempt to make life real. All of us know, even when we act on what we don’t know, life is absolutely unreal in its directly real form; the country, the city and our ideas are absolutely fictitious things, the offspring of our complex sensation of our own selves. Impressions are incommunicable unless we make them literary. Children are particularly literary, for they say what they feel not what someone has taught them to feel. Once I heard a child, who wished to say that he was on the verge of tears, say not ‘I feel like crying’, which is what an adult, i.e., an idiot, would say but rather, ’ I feel like tears.’ And this phrase -so literary it would seem affected in a well-known poet, if he could ever invent it - decisively refers to the warm presence of tears about to burst from eyelids that feel the liquid bitterness. ‘I feel like tears’! The small child aptly defined his spiral. To say! To know how to say! To know how to exist via the written voice and the intellectual image! This is all that matters in life; the rest is men and women, imagined loves and factitious vanities, the wiles of our digestion and forgetfulness, people squirming- like worms when a rock is lifted - under the huge abstract boulder of the meaningless blue sky.