Skepticism or scepticism (Greek skeptomai: to consider, to examine) refers to any view involving doubt.
- An attitude of doubt about whether something exists.
- A doubt about whether something can be known for certain.
- A doubt about whether we are correct in arguing a certain way.
- A practical method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt or criticism.
People who have skepticism as an attitude, opinion, or method are called skeptics or sceptics.
The roots of skepticism[change | change source]
Skepticism is not just a belief that something is incorrect. It is a system of thought which acts against superstitions and rumours. Characteristic of skepticism is the attitude that any statement is judged on the evidence for or against its truth.
The Greek Sophists of the 5th century BC, such as Protagoras of Abdera (480–411 BC), were mostly skeptics. Gorgias (485–380 BC) said, "Nothing exists; if anything does exist, it cannot be known; if anything exists and can be known, it cannot be communicated". In the 4th century BC Pyrrho of Elis (c360–275 BC), who travelled and studied as far as India, adopted practical skepticism. Carneades (c213–129 BC) disagreed that things were completely true or false. He criticized the Dogmatists, especially Stoics. He said that completely certain knowledge is impossible. Sextus Empiricus (c200 AD), the main authority for Greek skepticism, brought together empiricism into the basis for stating knowledge.
Skepticism comes from Asian philosophy, too. The Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (c369–c286 BC) said that what seems real could be just a dream. In Indian philosophy, the Cārvāka school thought that we should neither try to infer knowledge nor trust what other people tell us. In Buddhism, Nāgārjuna said that nothing exists by itself, and that this idea is an important part of enlightenment.
The most important part of the argument is that unless we know something for certain, then we cannot know anything. The interest lies in the way great philosophers have tried to solve this problem. Some, like Descartes, retreat into the mind: "I think, therefore I am". Others, such as the British empiricists John Locke and David Hume, would rely on our sense perception. Certain kinds of knowledge may be especially vulnerable to skepticism. For example, an agnostic believes people cannot get knowledge about supernatural things.
Skepticism is widely used as a method for research in science, and (with changes) in modern legal procedure. Here doubt, suspending judgement, careful investigation, testing and discussion come before any statement of facts. Sometimes the process takes years before consensus is reached. This systematic approach is called methodological skepticism. It is probably the most important legacy of the skeptics.
Scepticism in Islam[change | change source]
In Islamic philosophy, philosophical skepticism was started by Al-Ghazali, known in the West as "Algazel", as a part of the orthodox Ash'ari school of Islamic theology. It has been said that Rene Descartes' ideas in Discourse on the Method may have been influenced by Al-Ghazli.
References[change | change source]
- Long A.A. 1974. Hellenistic philosophy.
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- "Scepticism - History of Scepticism". Archived from the original on 2012-02-09. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
- "Zhuangzi - Wikiquote". en.wikiquote.org. Retrieved 2018-06-25.
- "Epistemology in Classical Indian Philosophy". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 22 January 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
- "René Descartes - Wikiquote". en.wikiquote.org. Retrieved 2018-06-25.
- Hume D. 1739 Treatise, and 1748. Enquiry into human understanding.
- Najm, Sami M. (July–October 1966), "The place and function of doubt in the philosophies of Descartes and Al-Ghazali", Philosophy East and West, 16 (3–4): 133–41, doi:10.2307/1397536, JSTOR 1397536
Further reading[change | change source]
- Klein P. 2002. “Skepticism” in The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology. P. Moser (ed) Oxford University Press. pp336–361
Resources[change | change source]
Literary skeptics[change | change source]
- Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's Dictionary
- Ignacy Krasicki: Fables and Parables
- Bolesław Prus: Pharaoh
- Voltaire: Candide
- Montaigne: Essays
Organizations[change | change source]
- Center for Inquiry
- Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
- The Skeptics Society
- James Randi Educational Foundation
- Rationalist International
- The New England Skeptical Society
- Australian Skeptics
Media[change | change source]
- Penn & Teller: Bullshit!