“Doubting Mania” (la folie du doute)

Jennifer Fleissner on “doubt” as part of what she calls “obsessional modernity“:

The mechanical discourse of neurasthenia as nervous exhaustion, however, was not the only way its symptoms were characterized in the 1880s and 1890s. Notably, a number of American psychologists borrowed from their French counterparts another term to describe some of the condition’s more striking symptoms—a term for which the dialectics of modern rationalism, as we’ve been figuring them here, remained very much front and center. This term was doubting mania (or la folie du doute, as it was first discussed at length in an 1875 French study of the same name).

Insofar as many of us are familiar with this problem, it seems hard to distinguish such a “mania” from paranoia. Indeed, what does it mean to be a “doubting maniac” in a “post-truth” world? To be someone who doubts we are beyond truth, or someone who doubts that we really doubt? Both? Neither?

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