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Skepticism (or scepticism) has many definitions, but generally refers to any questioning attitude of knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere. The word may characterise a position on a single matter, as in the case of religious skepticism, which is "doubt concerning basic religious principles (such as immortality, providence, and revelation)", but philosophical skepticism is an overall approach that requires all new information to be well supported by evidence. Skeptics may even doubt the reliability of their own senses. Classical philosophical skepticism derives from the 'Skeptikoi', a school who "asserted nothing". Adherents of Pyrrhonism, for instance, suspend judgment in investigations.
Definition[edit | edit source]
- (a) an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object;
- (b) the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain; or
- (c) the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism that is characteristic of skeptics (Merriam–Webster).
In philosophy, skepticism refers more specifically to any one of several propositions. These include propositions about:
- (a) an inquiry,
- (b) a method of obtaining knowledge through systematic doubt and continual testing,
- (c) the arbitrariness, relativity, or subjectivity of moral values,
- (d) the limitations of knowledge,
- (e) a method of intellectual caution and suspended judgment.
Scientific skepticism[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Scientific skepticism
A scientific (or empirical) skeptic is one who questions beliefs on the basis of scientific understanding. Most scientists, being scientific skeptics, test the reliability of certain kinds of claims by subjecting them to a systematic investigation using some form of the scientific method. As a result, a number of claims are considered "pseudoscience" if they are found to improperly apply or ignore the fundamental aspects of the scientific method. Scientific skepticism does not address religious beliefs, since these beliefs are, by definition, outside the realm of systematic, empirical testing/knowledge.
Philosophical skepticism[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Philosophical skepticism
In philosophical skepticism, pyrrhonism is a position that refrains from making truth claims. A philosophical skeptic does not claim that truth is impossible (which would be a truth claim). The label is commonly used to describe other philosophies which appear similar to philosophical skepticism, such as academic skepticism, an ancient variant of Platonism that claimed knowledge of truth was impossible. Empiricism is a closely related, but not identical, position to philosophical skepticism. Empiricists see empiricism as a pragmatic compromise between philosophical skepticism and nomothetic science; philosophical skepticism is in turn sometimes referred to as "radical empiricism."
Philosophical skepticism originated in ancient Greek philosophy. The Greek Sophists of the 5th century BC were for the most part skeptics. Pyrrhonism was a school of skepticism founded by Aenesidemus in the first century BC and recorded by Sextus Empiricus in the late 2nd century or early 3rd century AD. One of its first proponents was Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360-275 B.C.), who traveled and studied as far as India and propounded the adoption of "practical" skepticism. Subsequently, in the "New Academy" Arcesilaus (c. 315-241 B.C.) and Carneades (c. 213-129 B.C.) developed more theoretical perspectives, by which conceptions of absolute truth and falsity were refuted as uncertain. Carneades criticized the views of the Dogmatists, especially supporters of Stoicism, asserting that absolute certainty of knowledge is impossible. Sextus Empiricus (c. A.D. 200), the main authority for Greek skepticism, developed the position further, incorporating aspects of empiricism into the basis for asserting knowledge.
Greek skeptics criticized the Stoics, accusing them of dogmatism. For the skeptics, the logical mode of argument was untenable, as it relied on propositions which could not be said to be either true or false without relying on further propositions. This was the regress argument, whereby every proposition must rely on other propositions in order to maintain its validity (see the five tropes of Agrippa the Sceptic). In addition, the skeptics argued that two propositions could not rely on each other, as this would create a circular argument (as p implies q and q implies p). For the skeptics, such logic was thus an inadequate measure of truth and could create as many problems as it claimed to have solved. Truth was not, however, necessarily unobtainable, but rather an idea which did not yet exist in a pure form. Although skepticism was accused of denying the possibility of truth, in fact it appears to have mainly been a critical school which merely claimed that logicians had not discovered truth.
In Islamic philosophy, skepticism was established by Al-Ghazali (1058–1111), known in the West as "Algazel", as part of the orthodox Ash'ari school of Islamic theology, whose method of skepticism shares many similarities with Descartes' method.
René Descartes is credited for developing a global skepticism as a thought experiment in his attempt to find absolute certainty on which to base the foundation of his philosophy. Descartes discussed skeptical arguments from dreaming and radical deception. David Hume has also been described as a global skeptic. However, Descartes was not ostensibly a skeptic and developed his theory of an absolute certainty to disprove other skeptics who argued that there is no certainty.
See also[edit | edit source]
Notes[edit | edit source]
- See R. H. Popkin, The History of Skepticism from Erasmus to Descartes (rev. ed. 1968); C. L. Stough, Greek Skepticism (1969); M. Burnyeat, ed., The Skeptical Tradition (1983); B. Stroud, The Significance of Philosophical Skepticism (1984). Encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com
- "Philosophical views are typically classed as skeptical when they involve advancing some degree of doubt regarding claims that are elsewhere taken for granted." URM.edu
- "Philosophical skepticism should be distinguished from ordinary skepticism, where doubts are raised against certain beliefs or types of beliefs because the evidence for the particular belief or type of belief is weak or lacking..." Skepdic.com
- "...the two most influential forms of skepticism have, arguably, been the radical epistemological skepticism of the classical Pyrrhonian skeptics and the Cartesian form of radical epistemological skepticism" UTM.edu
- Liddell and Scott
- Sextus Empiricus, Outlines Of Pyrrhonism, Translated by R. G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p. 21
- Skeptoid.com: What is skepticism?
- Scepticism – History of Scepticism
- Najm, Sami M. (July–October 1966), "The Place and Function of Doubt in the Philosophies of Descartes and Al-Ghazali", Philosophy East and West (Philosophy East and West, Vol. 16, No. 3/4) 16 (3–4): 133–141, doi:10.2307/1397536
Sources[edit | edit source]
- A Greek-English Lexicon, Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie, Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK, 1940. Online, perseus.tufts.edu.
- Richard Hönigswald, Die Skepsis in Philosophie und Wissenschaft, 1914, new edition (ed. and introduction by Christian Benne and Thomas Schirren), Göttingen: Edition Ruprecht, 2008, ISBN 978-7675-3056-0
- Keeton, Morris T., "skepticism", pp. 277–278 in Dagobert D. Runes (ed.), Dictionary of Philosophy, Littlefield, Adams, and Company, Totowa, NJ, 1962.
- Runes, D.D. (ed.), Dictionary of Philosophy, Littlefield, Adams, and Company, Totowa, NJ, 1962.
- Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged, W.A. Neilson, T.A. Knott, P.W. Carhart (eds.), G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, MA, 1950.
- Butchvarov, Panayot, Skepticism About the External World (Oxford University Press, 1998).
- Daniels, M.D., D.; Price, PhD, V. (2000), The Essential Enneagram, New York: HarperCollins
Further reading[edit | edit source]
- Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, R.G. Bury (trans.), Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY, 1990.
- Richard Wilson, Don't Get Fooled Again - The skeptic's guide to life, Icon Books, London, 2008. ISBN 978-184831014-8
[edit | edit source]
- Skeptical Inquiry at the Open Directory Project
- "Most Scientific Papers are Probably Wrong", NewScientist, 30 August 2005
- "In the Name of Skepticism: Martin Gardner's Misrepresentations of General Semantics", by Bruce I. Kodish, appeared in General Semantics Bulletin, Number 71, 2004.
- Classical Skepticism by Peter Suber
- "Outstanding skeptics of the 20th century" – Skeptical Inquirer magazine
- "CSICOP and the Skeptics" – critical essay by paranormal believer George P. Hansen
- "Nonsense (And Why It's So Popular)" – course syllabus from The College of Wooster.
- Template:CathEncy – A Christian (Catholic) account of scepticism
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