Skepticism or scepticism (Greek skeptomai: to consider, to examine) refers to any view involving doubt.
- 1. An attitude of doubt as to whether something exists.
- 2. A doubt as to whether something can be known for certain.
- 3. A doubt as to whether we are correct in arguing a certain way.
- 4. The practical method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt or criticism is characteristic of skeptics.
The roots of skepticism
Skepticism has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy. The Greek Sophists of the 5th century BC, such as Protagoras of Abdera (480–411 BC), were for the most part skeptics. Gorgias (485–380 BC) said that "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) denied absolute truth and falsity. He criticized the Dogmatists, especially supporters of Stoicism, asserting that absolute certainty of knowledge is impossible. Sextus Empiricus (c200 AD), the main authority for Greek skepticism, incorporated empiricism into the basis for asserting knowledge.
The nub of the argument is the proposition that unless we know something for certain, then we cannot know anything at all. The interest lies in the way great philosophers have sought to counter 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 that knowledge of supernatural things cannot be attained.
Skepticism is widely used as a method for research in science, and (with variations) in modern legal procedure. Here doubt, suspending judgement, methodical investigation, testing and discussion precede 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.
- Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's Dictionary
- Ignacy Krasicki: Fables and Parables
- Bolesław Prus: Pharaoh
- Voltaire: Candide
- Montaigne: Essays
- Center for Inquiry
- Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
- The Skeptics Society
- James Randi Educational Foundation
- Rationalist International
- The New England Skeptical Society
- Australian Skeptics
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