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Definition of true skepticism

  1. Jun 9, 2004 #1


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    I am basing this thread on this definition:

    "The doctrine that absolute knowledge is impossible, either in a particular domain or in general."

    From this definition, I am concluding that we can never know "truth" collectively. I am skeptical myself that this is not possible, thus perhaps skepticism has its limits as well as it advantages. Can we be dogmatic about being skeptical? Or is being skeptical about everything the best way to understand our reality to the best of our human ability?

    A link that got this question going in my mind:

    Is it possible that some may know their own truth, while others do not?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 9, 2004 #2
    Hey Kerrie, long time no see. I used to be active on these boards. Anyway, are you arguing against or for philosophical skepticism? Radical philosophical skepticism is poppycock, it is nothing more than nihilism. If you accept philosophical skepticism then you in effect do no accept anything not axioms or anything you are spinning in a vortex of nothingness. If the nihilist speaks she is a hypocrite. Basically if you say "nothing is certain of this I am certain" what you have said is absurd as you have committed the very common stolen-concept fallacy. I admit it sounds nice but it is nonsense. Certainly forms of skepticism are useful and correct but when start to deny axioms you actually remove any justification you may have for denying axioms unless of course you spin in the proverbial vortex of nothingness and remain in a catatonic state. =)
  4. Jun 12, 2004 #3


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    I agree that it has its limits as well as its advantages

    I think Feynmann said Science is organized doubt
    the scientific attitude is predominantly skeptical and
    the community of science encourages doubt and testing

    so skepticism is useful in that context at least (science)
    but not if carried to extremes
    as in "radical philosophical skepticism" defined here----that would be useless I suspect and in any case rarely seen in practice

    I also think that skepticism is learned and it should be passed on
    to future generations
    and that it is one of the few protections we and our children have
    from Cults and Totalitarian Ideologies and
    diseases like rightwing Christian fundamentalism
    and Islamic fundamentalism

    I think skepticism is only useful if it is limited and not extreme
    and that its application requires judgement
    but that a reasonable degree of skepticism is terribly essential
    to human wellbeing and a real cultural value we have to preserve.

    I think skepticism has been a thread in European thought for centuries
    and was certainly important at the time the US constitution was written
    but also earlier, and is not an especially "modern" style of thought.

    Nor is it, I believe, especially "Greek"

    this is my private take on skepticism, make of it what you want.
  5. Jun 12, 2004 #4


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    i agree with your position marcus. humanity does need skepticism as far as fundamentalistic views are concerned.

    if i read this link correctly, then true skepticism doubts everything humanity has theorized and automatically states that the truth can never be known.

    "Since we do not know things as they are, but only as they seem to us, nothing can be called good or bad by nature, but only through law or convention. Neither sense perception nor reason lead to truth or falsehood because what we learn from either is wholly related to the world of appearances. We suspend judgement on all theories of reality or philosophical systems. But we do so to doubt what we know and not to deny the possibility of knowing. "

    after first reading this, it seemed sort of depressing because as a human being i am incapable of knowing what is true and what is not. but then, the next paragraph makes perfect sense:

    "The natural result of this kind of skeptical doubt is a state of calmness and tranquility. Although it might not seem likely from what I have said about Pyrrho, he received the highest awards Alexandria could give a man in both religion and the arts. He was a severe moralist. He said that honor and shame and justice were measured only by the laws and customs of the people. He was renown for his modesty. He was never excited by the opinions of others, and he was never disturbed by sudden changes in legislation. Since he deemed virtue the only good he thought health, strength, riches, and worldly honors to be matters of total indifference."

    curious for more thoughts...
  6. Jun 12, 2004 #5
    Well I thought we were discussing philosophical skepticism and not the sort of "Homeopathy Debunked" sort of documentary television skepticism. Obviously all
    a posteriori judgements based on appearances or phenomena are subject to the epistemic limitations of our ability to only understand phenomena. When I discuss radical skepticism that denotes a denial even of a priori judgements, which I contend is absurd.
  7. Jun 13, 2004 #6


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    to be honest nico, i am trying to understand what the original meaning of skepticism is, where it came from, etc. i don't know where you are pulling this "homeopathy debunked" term from, and maybe i don't want to know. :biggrin: :surprise:

    as a member of this forum who tries promotes the exploring alternative ways of understanding existence, i feel it is only fair for me to indulge in understanding the opposite stance.
  8. Jun 13, 2004 #7
    Well when people use the term "skepticism," I am afraid it is a bit misleading. Normally, in non-philosophic contexts, skepticism denotes the idea that only knowledge discovered through science is right and science is obviously right. For example all the articles and documentaries about "debunking" certain things while expousing "skepticism," which is what I think Marcus was alluding, which is all well any good, but philosophical skepticism is much more than that. So what I am trying to say is when we use the term "skepticism" we may either be referring to true skepticism or using the kind of vernacular usage, such as, "I am skeptical of multi-level marketing schemes." As far as the history of skepticism, I suppose you must look at Pyrrho, who is considered its father, but Empiricus is credited with carrying the tradition. However, the best modern example is that of David Hume and specifically his Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
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