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Skepticism

SKEPTICISM.

Skepticism is both a generalized sense of doubt and disbelief as expressed in everyday language and an identifiable school of thought in the history of ideas. In its most general sense it refers to uncertainty, doubt, disbelief, suspension of judgment, and rejection of knowledge. It is characterized by its opposition to dogmatism, which claims to know reality and the truth.

As a philosophical tradition skepticism is best understood as the product of two movements in ancient Greek philosophy. Academic skepticism can be attributed to Socrates and to Plato's successors at the Academy in Athens (fifth century to second century b.c.e.), and Pyrrhonism can be traced back to Pyrrho of Ellis (c. 365275 b.c.e.). Elements of skepticism can be found in many other schools of ancient Greek philosophy, from Heraclitus to the Cyrenaics and the Cynics. There are also analogies to ancient Greek and Roman skepticism in ancient Chinese, Persian, Arabic, and Indian philosophy, but they did not have the impact on modern thinking that the Mediterranean skepticisms did.

Academic Skepticism

The Roman philosopher and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero (10643 b.c.e.) is the chief source for Academic skepticism. His Academica (45 b.c.e.) reports on the teachings of Arcesilaus (315240 b.c.e.) and Carneades (214129 b.c.e.), both heads of the Academy, and he claims allegiance to the Academic school. St. Augustine of Hippo's earliest extant work, Contra Academicos (Against the Academics; 386 c.e.), is also an important source of knowledge about Academic skepticism.

Socrates can be placed at the origins of skepticism if it is understood that he only asked questions and did not teach positive doctrines. Plato and Aristotle strayed from his path when they claimed to know the truth. Arcesilaus gave renewed vigor to skepticism, arguing against the opinions of all men, as Cicero put it. But he also showed that skeptics could make choices in accordance with the eulogon (the reasonable) in the absence of truth. Carneades, also a master of arguing on both sides of every issue, refined this into the standard of the pithanon (the credible). Cicero translated this into Latin as probabile, setting the stage for the skeptics' claim to live by the probable in the absence of truth.

Manuscripts of Cicero's Academica were available in the Middle Ages to figures such as John of Salisbury (11151180), who used it to underpin defenses of liberty of thought and speech. The text was first printed at Rome in 1471, followed by numerous commentaries and annotations. By 1600 more than 100 editions had been published.

The Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1466?1536) admired Academic skepticism in his Praise of Folly (1511), which provoked opposition from Christians like Philipp Melanchthon (14871560). Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola's Examen Vanitatis (1520) drew from both Cicero and Sextus Empiricus. Omer Talon emphasized the Academics' philosophical freedom from dogmatism in his Academia of 1547, and Petrus Ramus praised their rhetoric and style in Ciceronianus of 1557. Giulio Castellani (15281586) defended Aristotelianism against Academic skepticism in Adversus Marci Tullii Ciceronis (1558), arguing that disagreement is not as widespread as the skeptics claimed. Johannes Rosa (15321571) brought out a substantial early commentary on the Academica in German in 1571, and Pedro de Valencia (15551620) refashioned Academic skepticism in his own Academica of 1596, published in Spain.

Publication of Sextus Empiricus's works in the 1560s replaced Cicero as the chief source of information about ancient skepticism. After that point most authors drew their inspiration from both sources, so it is hard to speak of purely Academic skeptics from then on. One exception is David Hume (17111776), sometimes called an Academic skeptic, among other reasons because a character in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779) takes the role of an Academic. There has also been scholarly debate about whether other individual early modern figures were Academic skeptics or Pyrrhonians, but in this period the two traditions were often run together and few, if any, authors made a clear distinction.

Pyrrhonism

The chief source for ancient Pyrrhonism is the work of the Greek physician Sextus Empiricus (second century c.e.), including Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Against the Dogmatists, and Against the Mathematicians. Once thought of as a mere compiler, many recent studies have found philosophical originality in his texts. As Sextus explained it, skepticism was not a philosophy but rather a way of life in which one opposed all claims to truth with equal opposite claims (equipollence). Standard tropes or formula arguments could be used against any certainty or truth. He attributed one set of these tropes to the Greek philosopher Aenesidemus and another to Agrippa (both first century b.c.e.). Diogenes Laertius's Lives of the Philosophers (early third century c.e.) is also a source for information about ancient skepticism, including the tropes.

In Sextus's account, the basic ten tropes or formula arguments show that the same thing appears differently (1) to different animals, (2) to different individuals, (3) to different senses, (4) to the same sense in different conditions, (5) in different positions or places, (6) in company with different things, (7) in different quantities, (8) in different relations, (9) if common or if rare, and (10) to people with different customs or ways of life. Thus, any claim about a thing could be matched with an equal counterclaim. Other tropes bring out the problem of the criterion (an infinite regress), unresolved disputes, problems with attributing causation, and more. The result of the skeptical tropes was that one would suspend judgment (epochē ) and then find oneself in ataraxia, or tranquility, no longer disturbed by conflicting claims. One would live in accordance with the phenomena or appearances, without taking a stand on the truth or reality behind them. One would follow one's natural impulses as well as local customs and laws.

Even in ancient times, critics of the skeptics accused them of inconsistency, incoherence, immorality, and inability to live their skepticism. These arguments were more and less sophisticated, and ranged widely from the claim that skeptics cannot be fully skeptical because they believe their own positions are true to the claim that skeptics will not make reliable friends. As late as the 1980s, a number of scholars of ancient skepticism continued to maintain these claims, but opinion turned in the 1990s as a consensus emerged that skeptics could indeed live their skepticism, and that they would not necessarily be any more immoral than followers of other philosophies.

Much of Sextus's text consists of refutation of other dogmatic philosophies of the time. Since he quoted their ideas in order to refute them, his text has been an important source of information about ancient Stoicism, Epicureanism, and other philosophies.

Early Reception

Occasional references to the ancient Pyrrhonists can be found throughout the late Roman and early medieval periods. The oldest extant Greek manuscript of Sextus dates from the tenth century, and manuscripts of Latin translations existed in medieval collections by the fourteenth century. More manuscripts came into Italy from Byzantium in the mid-fifteenth century, when the Florentine religious leader Girolamo Savonarola (14521498) used Sextus to combat pagan philosophy, and the humanist scholar Pico della Mirandola drew on Sextus to fight other dogmatists. Knowledge of the materials eventually spread into France and other northern countries.

The printing press made for the most influential dissemination of these texts. Published Latin translations by Henri II Estienne (Stephanus) (1562) and Gentian Hervet (1569) provided the stimulus for a widespread "skeptical crisis." Michel de Montaigne (15331592) was the most influential of the early European writers to draw on the writings of Sextus in his Essais (Essays; 15801595). In his longest essay, "Defense of Raymond Sebond," Montaigne retailed most of the skeptical tropes and all of the skeptical vocabulary from Sextus Empiricus. In this and other essays he demolished pretensions to human knowledge and argued both sides of nearly all issues. He was never pessimistic but showed people how to live a good life in spite of skepticism, which helps explain why his work was so popular.

Later thinkers often started from Montaigne. One who went beyond him in posing questions of skepticism was René Descartes (15961650). Without specific precedent in the ancient materials, he set out to answer the skeptical idea that there could be an all-powerful malin genie or evil demon that manipulates human perceptions and reasoning, fooling people about the world. His conclusion was that individuals know of their existence because they can thinkthe famous "I think therefore I am." Explaining why one's perceptions of thinking could not be a deception, Descartes asserts that God would not allow such deception. Religion is invoked to certify truth. Later skeptics would worry about a deceiving God.

Bishop Pierre-Daniel Huet (16301721) and the Huguenot refugee Pierre Bayle (16471706) have been described as the "master skeptics." Huet invoked Sextus Empiricus in great detail against Descartes and many other dogmatic philosophers in his Traité philosophique de la foiblesse de l'esprit humaine (1723; Philosophical tract on the weakness of the human mind). Bayle's massive works attacked all previous philosophy and historical scholarship but upheld moral rigorism.

Reception in and since the Enlightenment

The Scottish philosopher David Hume responded to the skeptical challenge in ways that made him central to philosophical discussion up to the twenty-first century. His Treatise of Human Nature (17391740) argued for skepticism about both facts and reason. His critique of causation reduces it to little more than a habit based on constant conjunction. And yet in typical skeptical fashion he showed people how to live with skepticism on the basis of probabilities and custom.

The Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant (17241804) was called the "all-destroyer" because of his rejection of many other dogmatic philosophies. He adopted skeptical Greek vocabulary when he argued that one could have no knowledge of the noumenathe reality behind appearancesbut only of the phenomena. He saved free will and morality from scientific determinism by reducing human knowledge of them to faith rather than knowledge. Other skeptics writing in German in his time included Salomon Maimon and Gottlob Ernst "Aenesidemus" Schulze. When Carl Friedrich Stäudlin's Geschichte und Geist des Skepticismus (History and spirit of skepticism) of 1794 showed Hume facing Kant on the title page, it was clear that these two thinkers had posed the skeptical challenge for the age. Stäudlin denounced unphilosophical skepticism even as he demonstrated that philosophical skepticism could not be refuted.

In the nineteenth century, the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (17701831) believed that ancient skepticism was of great philosophical importance while modern skepticism had little merit. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (18131855) incorporated skepticism into his theology. One of the prize questions of the Royal Academy in Paris concerned the failure of all answers to skepticism. The Swiss philologist and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900) made skepticism a significant part of his philosophy. Karl Marx (18181883) and Sigmund Freud (18561939) followed in a long-established tradition of using various skepticisms against their opponents but then claiming dogmatic truth for their own positions. Their practice reflected the important distinction between partial skepticism (e.g., of claims in one domain, such as religion, or the claims of an opposing political party) and global or universal skepticism, which suspends judgment about everything.

In the twentieth century Jean Grenier (18981971) translated Sextus into French. His student Albert Camus (19131960) drew on skepticism in his work as one of the founders of existentialism. In Germany, Odo Marquard (1928) led a self-consciously skeptical charge against the dogmatisms of thinkers such as Jürgen Habermas. Also in the same century, some analytical philosophers developed their own ahistorical definitions of skepticism and debated them with little if any reference to the traditions of skepticism. Revisionists such as Stephen Toulmin (1922) then interpreted one of their heroes, Ludwig Wittgenstein (18891951), as following in the footsteps of the ancient skeptics.

Skepticism in Medicine and Science

Of all the fields that in the early twenty-first century are considered sciences, medicine has been especially intertwined with skepticism. Sextus Empiricus was a practicing physician whose work influenced his philosophy. The writings of the Greek physicians Hippocrates (c. 460c. 377 b.c.e.) and Galen (c. 129c. 200 c.e.) stressed the importance of skeptical observation and experience and the dangers of dogmatic theory in medicine. Their work was an important part of medical education in early modern Europe, introducing the student to both dogmatic medicine and the skeptical critique.

Several prominent early modern physicians developed the connections between skepticism and medicine. The Toulouse professor Francisco Sanches (c. 15501623) called himself "Carneades philosophus," attacking Aristotelian science in his book Quod Nihil Scitur (That nothing is known; 1581). The English physician and philosopher John Locke (16321704) borrowed some of the skeptical elements in his philosophy from the skeptical physician Thomas Sydenham (16241689). Martín Martínez (16841734), royal physician and president of the Royal Medicine Academy of Medicine in Seville, published Medicina Sceptica (17221724), attacking dogmatic Galenism, and Philosophia Sceptica (1730), which introduced Descartes to Spain. The German physician Ernst Platner's (17441818) skeptical writings were influential in Kant's time.

The early natural scientist Francis Bacon (15611626) was convinced that the experimental method would produce absolute certainty. Skeptics like François de La Mothe Le Vayer (15831672) used skeptical tropes to show that science could not produce certain knowledge. Other philosopher-scientists, such as Marin Mersenne (15881648) and Pierre Gassendi (15921655) in France, rejected the need for certainty and defended experimental science on the ground that it is enough that it produces useful knowledge. This attitude prevailed at the Royal Society in London. Skepticism could sweep away the pretensions of Aristotelians and other dogmatists while leaving scientists free to continue their experiments. In this spirit, Robert Boyle (16271691) named his spokesman "Carneades" in The Sceptical Chymist (1661), and Joseph Glanvill (16361680) titled one of his books Scepsis Scientifica (1665).

By the twentieth century, natural science had pretty much left the skeptical path, claiming something close to a monopoly on truth and knowledge. But avatars of the skeptical tradition still emerge here and there in connection with the sciences. The philosopher of science Karl Popper (19021994) contended that scientific claims could never be absolutely verified, only falsified. Paul Feyerabend (19241994) was described as a Pyrrhonian for his generally skeptical attitude toward all scientific claims.

Skepticism in Law, Historiography, and Political Thought

It is no accident that one of the chief sources for Academic skepticism was a lawyer. After all, Cicero spent much of his professional life making cases for clients, regardless of which side truth was on. Montaigne also studied law and served as a magistrate, and concluded both that judges can make the law come out any way they want, and that they are often wrong. Legal realists in the twentieth century endorsed these views, concluding that the law was more an expression of social power than of truth or certainty. Legal education encourages skepticism by teaching lawyers how to argue both sides of any case.

Especially in the seventeenth century, skepticism made its way into historiography, as writers began to question the received accounts of history. La Mothe Le Vayer's On the Small Amount of Certainty in History (1668) and Pierre Bayle's Historical and Critical Dictionary (16971702) brought numerous historical errors to public attention. The only lasting solution was to learn to live with the appearances and accept lower standards for practical purposes instead of absolute certainty.

Throughout the early modern era, skepticism was used to justify a wide variety of political stances, from radical reform to quietist conservatism. The implications of many of Montaigne's political commentaries were quite subversive of the political arrangements of his time. But his contemporary, the Dutch thinker Justus Lipsius (15471606), claimed that skepticism justified repression of reformers on the ground that they could not know that they were right. The English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes (15881679) accepted much of the skeptical critique of knowledge and concluded that, for the sake of social order, the king should define the truth and punish deviations from it. Hume drew the different political implication that people should be left alone in commercial society to define their own manners and opinions. Kant concluded that one can know what politics should be like (ethical and republican) but that one could never know if these standards are really instantiated in any concrete political arrangements.

Earlier figures from Montaigne to Kant were often aware of the genealogy of their ideas, but even later writers working in ignorance of the roots of their ideas have come up with a similarly wide range of political conclusions. Without indicating much awareness of the skeptical tradition, the British political philosophers Edmund Burke (17291797) and Michael Oakeshott (19011990), each in different ways, used skepticism to undermine dogmatic political activism. Postmodernists with generally radical or activist sympathies have also not usually been aware of how close some of their positions are to the skeptical tradition.

Skepticism and Religion

The historical scholarship of Isaac la Peyrère (15961676), Benedict de Spinoza (16321677), and Richard Simon (16381712) contributed to skepticism about the Bible. In response, it has been common to accuse skeptics of atheism, libertinism, and immorality. But skeptics were not necessarily atheists. One of the most common uses of skepticism was by the self-described orthodox against pagan claims to truth; by the Lutherans and Calvinists against Catholic claims to infallibility; and by Catholics against Protestant claims to truth. Many religionists believed that if all claims to truth can be demolished, one should accept traditional religion on faith. This position is known as fideism.

Various versions of fideism were widespread. Thinkers from Montaigne to Huet and Bayle wrote that skepticism cleared the way to faith by removing rationalist objections. Kant famously wrote that he had had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith. Whether some of these figures were insincere atheists, using fideism as a defense against charges of heresy, has been the subject of debate ever since.

But there is little doubt about the sincerity of many fideists. The sixteenth-century translators of Sextus, Hervet and Stephanus, were both Christians who believed that skepticism could help them in apologetics. Blaise Pascal (16231662) in France Christianized skepticism by showing that, properly understood, it set the scene for Christianity. Philosophers at the Prussian Academy who translated the Greek, Latin, and British skeptics into French and German, such as Jean-Henri-Samuel Formey (17111797), Jean-Bernard Mérian (17231807), and Jean de Castillon (17091791), tried to draw the teeth of skepticism by adding notes that made it consistent with Christianity. The Germans Johann Georg Hamann (17301788) and Friedrich Jacobi (17431819) adopted skepticism as a propaedeutic to Christian faith. Kierkegaard claimed that skepticism was the key to proper Christianity, which required a "leap of faith" after dogmatism had been destroyed by skepticism. The Russian theologian Lev Shestov (18661938) even rejected mathematics in order to achieve faith. Twentieth-century theologians were also compelled to either use skepticism or refute it.

In the twenty-first century it is safe to say that the challenges of the skeptical tradition to any claims to human truth and knowledge are alive and well. Many and perhaps most modern and postmodern thinkers have internalized much of skepticism, often without full awareness of the genealogy of their ideas. The chief elements of skepticism must be adopted, adapted, or refuted by any thinker. Since no one has succeeded fully at the last of these, variations on the former prevail.

See also Cynicism ; Dialogue and Dialectics: Socratic ; Epistemology ; Philosophy, History of ; Rhetoric .

bibliography

PRIMARY SOURCES

Cicero, Marcus Tullius. De natura deorum; Academica. Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1933.

Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. Edited by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Montaigne, Michel de. The Complete Essays. Translated by Donald M. Frame. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1957.

Oakeshott, Michael. The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Scepticism. Edited by Timothy Fuller. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996.

Sextus Empiricus. Against the Ethicists. Translated by Richard Bett. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

. The Skeptic Way: Sextus Empiricus's Outlines of Pyrrhonism. Translated by Benson Mates. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

SECONDARY SOURCES

Bailey, Alan. Sextus Empiricus and Pyrrhonean Scepticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Bett, Richard. Pyrrho, His Antecedents, and His Legacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Floridi, Luciano. Sextus Empiricus: The Transmission and Recovery of Pyrrhonism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Hankinson, R. J. The Sceptics. London: Routledge, 1995.

Laursen, John Christian. The Politics of Skepticism in the Ancients, Montaigne, Hume, and Kant. New York: E. J. Brill, 1992.

Paganini, Gianni, ed. The Return of Scepticism: From Hobbes and Descartes to Bayle. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 2003.

Popkin, Richard H. The History of Skepticism: From Savonarola to Bayle. Rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Popkin, Richard H., and José R. Maia Neto, eds. Scepticism in Renaissance and Post-Renaissance Thought. Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity, 2003.

Van der Zande, Johan, and Richard H. Popkin, eds. The Skeptical Tradition around 1800. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 1998.

John Christian Laursen

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Skepticism

Skepticism

Sources

Ingersoll. As modern scientific thought percolated through American society, religious belief became genuinely optional for the first time in American history. Before 1878 religious skepticism made little impact on American life. Under the influence of both Darwinian biology and popular evolutionary thought, however, it became possible for Americans to reject religion forthrightly without negative consequences in genteel society. One popular strain of the new agnosticism (a belief that neither accepts nor denies the existence of God) moved beyond religion in the name of higher moral evolution. Robert Green Ingersoll, whom one admirer called the Dwight L. Moody of Free Religion, was loosely associated with this movement. In a public career that spanned the closing decades of the nineteenth century, Ingersoll traveled the country promoting agnosticism as a morally superior replacement to conventional Christianity and attacking the hypocrisy of organized religion. A veteran of the Civil War and an accomplished trial lawyer, Ingersoll was a well-known figure in Republican politics. On the lecture circuit Ingersoll caused waves of sensation by forthrightly attacking the clergy and comparing organized religion to the institution of slavery. He described agnosticism as mental abolitionism. Ingersoll emphasized modern science, which he viewed as a surer form of faith in the modern world. He advocated reliance on rational science, the irresistible nature of human progress, and the potential for human moral perfection with the fervor of an itinerant evangelist. He looked forward to a day when organized religion would wither away. Humanity is the sky, and these religions and dogmas and theories are but mists and clouds continually changing, destined finally to melt away, he wrote.

Other Skeptics. To the rage of Protestant leaders, Ingersoll successfully presented agnosticism in a socially impeccable and conventional form. Religious skepticism was also increasingly common among the growing group of university-educated Americans and became the norm among scientists. A few American intellectuals went so far as to portray the relationship between science and religion in military terms. Andrew White, the first president of Cornell University, captured this spirit in the title of his polemical work published in 1896, The History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. William Graham Sumner of Yale University, a prominent social Darwinist, was also a critic of organized religion. More representative of the trend of university thought about religion was the philosopher John Dewey, who abandoned Christianity in the 1890s. Dewey grounded his search for meaning on naturalistic and evolutionary principles. He came to view abstract questions about God or the nature of ultimate reality as unanswerable and therefore futile. As a result, he built a philosophical system based on the confidence that science can observe and describe how the human mind and society work.

Feminist Skepticism. Feminist leaders also advanced arguments critical of institutional religion. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the leaders of the I womens suffrage movement in the United States, came to view Christianity as an instrument of female enslavement. She organized and edited the controversial Womans Bible, which was published in two volumes in 1895 and 1898. The volumes focused criticism on biblical passages in both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures in which women figure. Stanton and her collaborators criticized what they regarded as the degradation of women in key biblical texts and offered alternative readings of some passages that affirmed women and their equality. Stanton recruited women scholars with advanced training in the historical-critical methods, and the book was well informed about the most advanced biblical scholarship. But although Stanton endorsed the tools of modern biblical criticism, she was chiefly interested in using them to undermine American popular values and social conventions that rooted the restriction of women in the sacred texts of the Bible. The project led Stanton to deny the divine inspiration of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures on the grounds that God would not inspire inequality. Like many women of her social class and Protestant background, Stanton looked more favorably on the Spiritualist movement, a belief that the spirit is a prime element of reality and that the dead can communicate with the living through a medium.

Sources

David R. Anderson, Robert Ingersoll (Boston: Twayne, 1972);

Carol A. Newsome and Sharon H. Ringe, eds., The Womens Bible Commentary (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992);

James Turner, Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985).

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skepticism

skepticism (skĕp´tĬsĬzəm) [Gr.,=to reflect], philosophic position holding that the possibility of knowledge is limited either because of the limitations of the mind or because of the inaccessibility of its object. It is more loosely used to denote any questioning attitude. Extreme skepticism holds that no knowledge is possible, but this is logically untenable since the statement contradicts itself. The first important skeptical view was held by Democritus, who saw sense perception as no certain guide to objective reality. The Sophists were the earliest group of skeptics. Protagoras taught the relativity of knowledge, and Gorgias held that either nothing could be known, or if anything were known, it could not be communicated. Pyrrho, regarded as the father of skepticism, later held a similarly extreme position, seeing reality as inaccessible. Arcesilaus taught that certitude is impossible and only probable knowledge is attainable. In the Renaissance, skepticism is seen in the writings of Michel de Montaigne, Pierre Charron, and Blaise Pascal. For René Descartes skepticism was a methodology that allowed him to arrive at certain incontrovertible truths. At the end of the 17th cent., Pierre Bayle skeptically challenged philosophical and theological theories. David Hume, a leading modern skeptic, challenged established assumptions about the self, substance, and causality. The skeptical aspect of Immanuel Kant's philosophy is exemplified by his agnosticism; his antinomies of reason demonstrate that certain problems are insoluble by reason. To some degree skepticism manifests itself in the scientific method, which demands that all things assumed as facts be questioned. But the positivism of many scientists, whether latent or open, is incompatible with skepticism, for it accepts without question the assumption that material effect is impossible without material cause.

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).

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Skepticism

591. Skepticism (See also Cynicism, Pessimism.)

  1. Bothwell, Sergeant believes in nothing. [Br. Lit.: Old Mortality ]
  2. Dawes, Jabez mischievous brat ridicules Santas existence. [Am. Lit.: The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus in Rockwell]
  3. mushroom symbol of suspicion. [Plant Symbolism: Flower Symbolica, 310]
  4. Naaman at first doubts efficacy of leprosy cure. [O.T.: II Kings 5:1114]
  5. Thomas, St. wouldnt believe Christs resurrection until he saw Him; hence, Doubting Thomas. [N.T.: John 20:2425]
  6. Windermere, Lady doesnt believe husbands virtuous generosity toward Mrs. Erlynne. [Br. Lit.: Lady Windermeres Fan, Magill I, 488490]
  7. Zacharias struck dumb for doubting Gabriels birth annunciation. [N.T.: Luke 1:1820]

Skinniness (See THINNESS .)

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skeptic

skep·tic / ˈskeptik/ (Brit. scep·tic) • n. 1. a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions. ∎  a person who doubts the truth of Christianity and other religions; an atheist or agnostic. 2. Philos. an ancient or modern philosopher who denies the possibility of knowledge, or even rational belief, in some sphere. • adj. another term for skeptical. DERIVATIVES: skep·ti·cism / ˈskeptəˌsizəm/ (Brit. scep·ti·cism) n.

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skeptical

skep·ti·cal / ˈskeptikəl/ (Brit. scep·ti·cal) • adj. 1. not easily convinced; having doubts or reservations: the public were deeply skeptical about some of the proposals. 2. Philos. relating to the theory that certain knowledge is impossible. DERIVATIVES: skep·ti·cal·ly / -ik(ə)lē/ (Brit. scep·ti·cal·ly) adv.

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skeptic

skepticachromatic, acrobatic, Adriatic, aerobatic, anagrammatic, aquatic, aristocratic, aromatic, Asiatic, asthmatic, athematic, attic, autocratic, automatic, axiomatic, bureaucratic, charismatic, chromatic, cinematic, climatic, dalmatic, democratic, diagrammatic, diaphragmatic, diplomatic, dogmatic, dramatic, ecstatic, emblematic, emphatic, enigmatic, epigrammatic, erratic, fanatic, hepatic, hieratic, hydrostatic, hypostatic, idiomatic, idiosyncratic, isochromatic, lymphatic, melodramatic, meritocratic, miasmatic, monochromatic, monocratic, monogrammatic, numismatic, operatic, panchromatic, pancreatic, paradigmatic, phlegmatic, photostatic, piratic, plutocratic, pneumatic, polychromatic, pragmatic, prelatic, prismatic, problematic, programmatic, psychosomatic, quadratic, rheumatic, schematic, schismatic, sciatic, semi-automatic, Socratic, somatic, static, stigmatic, sub-aquatic, sylvatic, symptomatic, systematic, technocratic, thematic, theocratic, thermostatic, traumatic •anaphylactic, ataractic, autodidactic, chiropractic, climactic, didactic, galactic, lactic, prophylactic, syntactic, tactic •asphaltic •antic, Atlantic, corybantic, frantic, geomantic, gigantic, mantic, necromantic, pedantic, romantic, semantic, sycophantic, transatlantic •synaptic •bombastic, drastic, dynastic, ecclesiastic, elastic, encomiastic, enthusiastic, fantastic, gymnastic, iconoclastic, mastic, monastic, neoplastic, orgastic, orgiastic, pederastic, periphrastic, plastic, pleonastic, sarcastic, scholastic, scholiastic, spastic •matchstick • candlestick • panstick •slapstick • cathartic •Antarctic, arctic, subantarctic, subarctic •Vedantic • yardstick •aesthetic (US esthetic), alphabetic, anaesthetic (US anesthetic), antithetic, apathetic, apologetic, arithmetic, ascetic, athletic, balletic, bathetic, cosmetic, cybernetic, diabetic, dietetic, diuretic, electromagnetic, emetic, energetic, exegetic, frenetic, genetic, Helvetic, hermetic, homiletic, kinetic, magnetic, metic, mimetic, parenthetic, pathetic, peripatetic, phonetic, photosynthetic, poetic, prophetic, prothetic, psychokinetic, splenetic, sympathetic, syncretic, syndetic, synthetic, telekinetic, theoretic, zetetic •apoplectic, catalectic, dialectic, eclectic, hectic •Celtic •authentic, crescentic •aseptic, dyspeptic, epileptic, nympholeptic, peptic, proleptic, sceptic (US skeptic), septic •domestic, majestic •cretic •analytic, anchoritic, anthracitic, arthritic, bauxitic, calcitic, catalytic, critic, cryptanalytic, Cushitic, dendritic, diacritic, dioritic, dolomitic, enclitic, eremitic, hermitic, lignitic, mephitic, paralytic, parasitic, psychoanalytic, pyritic, Sanskritic, saprophytic, Semitic, sybaritic, syenitic, syphilitic, troglodytic •apocalyptic, cryptic, diptych, elliptic, glyptic, styptic, triptych •aoristic, artistic, autistic, cystic, deistic, distich, egoistic, fistic, holistic, juristic, logistic, monistic, mystic, puristic, sadistic, Taoistic, theistic, truistic, veristic •fiddlestick •dipstick, lipstick •impolitic, politic •polyptych • hemistich • heretic •nightstick •abiotic, amniotic, antibiotic, autoerotic, chaotic, demotic, despotic, erotic, exotic, homoerotic, hypnotic, idiotic, macrobiotic, meiotic, narcotic, neurotic, osmotic, patriotic, psychotic, quixotic, robotic, sclerotic, semiotic, symbiotic, zygotic, zymotic •Coptic, optic, panoptic, synoptic •acrostic, agnostic, diagnostic, gnostic, prognostic •knobstick • chopstick • aeronautic •Baltic, basaltic, cobaltic •caustic • swordstick • photic • joystick •psychotherapeutic, therapeutic •acoustic • broomstick • cultic •fustic, rustic •drumstick • gearstick • lunatic

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skeptical

skepticalcackle, crackle, grackle, hackle, jackal, mackle, shackle, tackle •ankle, rankle •Gaskell, mascle, paschal •tabernacle • ramshackle •débâcle, diarchal, matriarchal, monarchal, patriarchal, sparkle •rascal •deckle, freckle, heckle, Jekyll, shekel, speckle •faecal (US fecal), treacle •chicle, fickle, mickle, nickel, pickle, prickle, sickle, strickle, tickle, trickle •besprinkle, crinkle, sprinkle, tinkle, twinkle, winkle, wrinkle •fiscal •laical, Pharisaical •vehicle • stoical • cubicle • radical •medical, paramedical •Druidical, juridical, veridical •syndical •methodical, periodical, rhapsodical, synodical •Talmudical • graphical • pontifical •magical, tragical •strategical •alogical, illogical, logical •dramaturgical, liturgical, metallurgical, surgical •anarchical, hierarchical, monarchical, oligarchical •psychical •angelical, evangelical, helical •umbilical • biblical • encyclical •diabolical, follicle, hyperbolical, symbolical •dynamical, hydrodynamical •academical, agrochemical, alchemical, biochemical, chemical, petrochemical, photochemical, polemical •inimical • rhythmical • seismical •agronomical, anatomical, astronomical, comical, economical, gastronomical, physiognomical •botanical, Brahmanical, mechanical, puritanical, sanicle, tyrannical •ecumenical •geotechnical, pyrotechnical, technical •clinical, cynical, dominical, finical, Jacobinical, pinnacle, rabbinical •canonical, chronicle, conical, ironical •tunicle • pumpernickel • vernicle •apical • epical •atypical, prototypical, stereotypical, typical •misanthropical, semi-tropical, subtropical, topical, tropical •theatrical •chimerical, clerical, hemispherical, hysterical, numerical, spherical •calendrical •asymmetrical, diametrical, geometrical, metrical, symmetrical, trimetrical •electrical • ventricle •empirical, lyrical, miracle, panegyrical, satirical •cylindrical •ahistorical, allegorical, categorical, historical, metaphorical, oratorical, phantasmagorical, rhetorical •auricle • rubrical • curricle •classical, fascicle, neoclassical •farcical • vesicle •indexical, lexical •commonsensical, nonsensical •bicycle, icicle, tricycle •paradoxical • Popsicle • versicle •anagrammatical, apostatical, emblematical, enigmatical, fanatical, grammatical, mathematical, piratical, prelatical, problematical, sabbatical •impractical, practical, syntactical, tactical •canticle •ecclesiastical, fantastical •article, particle •alphabetical, arithmetical, heretical, hypothetical, metathetical, metical, parenthetical, poetical, prophetical, reticle, synthetical, theoretical •dialectical •conventicle, identical •sceptical (US skeptical) • testicle •analytical, apolitical, critical, cryptanalytical, diacritical, eremitical, geopolitical, hypercritical, hypocritical, political, socio-political, subcritical •deistical, egoistical, logistical, mystical, papistical •optical, synoptical •aeronautical, nautical, vortical •cuticle, pharmaceutical, therapeutical •vertical • ethical • mythical • clavicle •periwinkle • lackadaisical •metaphysical, physical, quizzical •whimsical • musical •Carmichael, cervical, cycle, Michael •unicycle • monocycle • motorcycle •cockle, grockle •corncockle • snorkel •bifocal, focal, local, univocal, varifocal, vocal, yokel •archducal, coucal, ducal, pentateuchal •buckle, chuckle, knuckle, muckle, ruckle, suckle, truckle •peduncle, uncle •parbuckle • carbuncle • turnbuckle •pinochle • furuncle • honeysuckle •demoniacal, maniacal, megalomaniacal, paradisiacal, zodiacal •manacle • barnacle • cenacle •binnacle • monocle • epochal •reciprocal •coracle, oracle •spectacle •pentacle, tentacle •receptacle • obstacle • equivocal •circle, encircle •semicircle

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Skepticism

SKEPTICISM

The term skepticism (Gr. σχέπτομαι, to examine) designates a variety of approaches to philosophical problems. According to popular usage, a skeptic is a person who, as a general rule, or in a particular instance, hesitates or refuses to accept the truth of propositions. Skepticism may be a mere psychological attitude, or a deliberate doctrine; it may be systematic or unsystematic, partial or total. Philosophical skepticism usually implies more than mere caution or a readiness to examine problems; otherwise most philosophies would have to be termed skeptical, since they involve methodical reflection on man, knowledge, and being. Rather it has come to be indissolubly associated with doubt, i.e., an inability to form one's judgment; thus doubt is the skeptic's characteristic reaction in the face of theoretical problems.

While a number of names in the history of philosophy have been identified with skepticism, historians generally fail to acknowledge the extent of their influence on the development of philosophical thought. For this reason, the present treatment first sketches the historical development of skepticism, and then gives a systematic analysis of its basic concepts and presuppositions.

Historical Development of Skepticism

The history of skepticism fits naturally into three main divisions, corresponding to those used to describe the evolution of philosophy itself. Its foundations were laid by the Greeks; it was revived, largely under fideist influences, in the medieval and Renaissance periods; and it emerged as a philosophical system, although with many variations, during the early development of modern philosophy.

Greek Skeptics. Ancient skepticism was fostered by two schools, one Pyrrhonian and the other Academic. It traces its origins, with some justification, to the difficulties, controversies, hesitations, and perplexities of pre-Socratic philosophers. The most immediately palpable influence is that, of democritus of Abdera, who taught that the world is made up of atoms and the void, and that qualitative diversity is a mere illusion of the senses. Truth, in such an atomistic materialism, can be gauged only by the intellect or mind, in conformity with the old Parmenidean opposition between sensation and intelligence. Through Metrodoros of Chios and Anaxarchos, a direct descendence is traceable from this doctrine to Pyrrho of Elis, the founder of Greek skepticism.

Pyrrhonians. Pyrrho is generally believed to have lived between 365 and 275 b.c. Influenced by the imperturbability and indifference of the Indian Magi or gymnosophists, he came to regard peace of mind as an end to be achieved through steadfast opposition to all dogmatic assertions. Since Pyrrho left no written works, his thought has been transmitted by the writings of his disciple, Timon of Phlius (c. 320230). It seems quite evident, from the fragments of Timon, that the basic elements of skepticism were already present, at least in primitive form, in the teachings of Pyrrho. (see pyrrhonism.)

Later skeptics developed and systematized Pyrrhonian philosophy. Unfortunately, we know practically nothing about their lives. Some ancient authors say that the succession lapsed after Timon, to be taken up again later by Ptolemy of Cyrene. Others (see Diogenes Laertius, 9:11516) establish an unbroken line of succession from Timon to Saturninus, the successor of Sextus Empiricus. Two authors, besides Sextus Empiricus, are singled out for their work in elaborating and systematizing the tropes (Gr. τρóποι), or ways of achieving suspension of judgment: Aenesidemus (sometime between 80 b.c. and a.d. 130) compiled the ten trope setting forth the relativity and the unreliability of sense cognition; Agrippa (no date known) worked out the five logical tropes challenging the validity of all argumentation.

Academicians. The Pyrrhonians, however, were not alone in their skeptical claims. Arcesillaus of Pitane (c. 315241), the successor of Crates and founder of the Middle Academy, developed the elements of doubt inherent in Platonic thought (see platonism). He is even credited by some authors, such as J. Burnet, with having been the first to formulate the skeptical τρóποι. Despite complete suspension of judgment in theoretical matters, Arcesilaus met the need for taking a stand in practical matters by defining a criterion of reasonableness (Gr. ε[symbol omitted]λογον), founded on the convergence of representations with respect to a given judgment.

The Middle and New Academies, stemming as they did from the great Platonic tradition, did not join forces with Pyrrhonians whose theoretical views were practically identical with their own. The later Pyrrhonians suspected the Academicians of insincerity and of harboring an esoteric dogmatism; Academic skepticism was represented as being little more than a test of one's worthiness to be initiated in the hidden dogmas of the Academy.

In any case, it seems that the continuity of the Pyrrhonian school was interrupted, or at least that its influence was sporadic, during the period when academic skepticism developed. But it is more than probable that latter-day Pyrrhonism, which developed largely in connection with medical practice, owed much of its subtle dialectic and its boundless arsenal of skeptical tropes to the work of its Academic forebears.

Carneades of Cyrene (c. 219129) defined a new criterion of persuasiveness or verisimilitude (Gr. πιθανόν) based on a single representation. The suspension of judgment, or ποχή, tended to be less pronounced as the Academy progressed. Eusebius quotes Numénius as saying that Arcesilaus was a Pyrrhonian in everything save in name (Praep. Ev. 14.6, Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 21:1202). In Carneades's teaching there seems to have been an ambiguity that one of his disciples, Clitomachos, resolved in the sense of a complete ποχή; another, Metrodoros, interpreted Carneades as opening the way for the possibility of speculative judgment. In the end Academic skepticism practically disappeared in Greece, but according to Cicero, it continued to flourish in Rome.

Medieval and Renaissance Skeptics. Medieval mystics, as a rule, tended to disparage the capabilities of unaided reason. In the later Middle Ages, doubt was thus thrown on the validity of rational proofs of God's existence and similar matters.

Ockhamists. john of mirecourt, for example, judged propositions such as God's existence and the causal dependence of creatures to be incapable of demonstrative proof. His philosophy amounts to a form of probabilism [F. C. Copleston, History of Philosophy ; v.3, Ockham to Suárez (1953) 3:12934]. nicholas of autrecourt, another Ockhamist, denied the possibility of inferring the existence of one thing from that of another, or the cogency of holding that accidents inhere in substances. He even invoked the well-known skeptical argument of the "future adversary" (viz, some future thinker may be able to refute what one now considers to be irrefutable) to urge caution regarding his own probable theories.

Renaissance Origins. A number of factors contributed to the rise of skepticism in the renaissance, among which one might mention the Reformation, with its challenge to the traditional criteria of religious and philosophical truth; the revival of interest in ancient literature, particularly in Cicero; the rediscovery and translation of the works of Sextus Empiricus; and the invention of printing, which diffused such works as the Pyrrhonian corpus of Sextus, the Lives of Diogenes Laertius, and Cicero's Academica.

Pyrrhonian and Academic doubt gained numerous followers in the period that stretches from the beginning of the 14th century to the advent of modern philosophy, though few proponents of skepticism fully adopted the radical principles of their ancient models. Systematic doubt became an effective way of expressing one's sense of personal freedom and worth, as well as a general feeling of contempt for the philosophical dogmatism of the Middle Ages.

nicholas of cusa (140164) was an anti-Aristotelian whose work on "learned ignorance" (De docta ignorantia ) presented wisdom as consisting in a recognition of one's own ignorance. Desiderius erasmus (14671536) in his De libero arbitrio expounds a form of fideistic skepticism (of which the Renaissance offers countless varieties) as a "basis for remaining within the Catholic Church" (Popkin, 5). His In Praise of Folly emphasizes the contradictions and excesses of scholastic systems. The Italian philosopher P. pomponazzi (14621525), though quoting Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas throughout his Tractatus de immortalitate animae and making constant use of scholastic terminology, refuses to admit that the immortality of the soul can be proved (ch. 15). Pomponazzi's approach amounts to a sort of philosophical probabilism in which Christian revelation exercises a normative role.

Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim (14861534), a German alchemist and philosopher who is said to have influenced the French humanist Montaigne, wrote a work De incertitudine et vanitate omnium scientiarum in which he asserted that nothing is more pernicious to human salvation than the arts and sciences (1726 ed., 7). Agrippa's skepticism, like that of most Renaissance skeptics, was fideistic in orientation. He likens knowledge to the serpent of the Garden of Eden. Revelation offers the sole means of overcoming the handicap arising from original sin.

Both Cardinal Sadoleto and Guy de Bruès wrote books intended to refute the arguments of the skeptics, but in such an indecisive manner as to reinforce the claims of skepticism.

Later Thinkers. Michel Eyquem de montaigne (153392) expressed a variety of philosophical attitudes in the Essais that give a running account of the evolution of his thought from 1572 to his death. Fideistic skepticism certainly marked an important phase of his development. Systematic doubt pervaded much of the intellectual life of the times, and Montaigne obviously made use of skeptical arguments to discredit immoderate dogmatic claims in all areas of knowledge (See Essais, Bk. 2, ch.12). Pierre charron (15411603), a disciple of Montaigne, advocated in his work De la sagesse a "universal and total freedom of mind, as regards judgment and will" (1606 ed., Bk. 2, ch. 2). He advised suspension of judgment in all matters save "divine truths revealed by eternal wisdom" and the actions of practical life (ibid., 292). However, the general tenor of his assertions, e.g., on God and moral virtues, seems to contrast with his skeptical principles. Skepticism was considered by many apologists such as St. francis de sales (15671622) and J.P. Camus (15821653), Bishop of Belley, to be a potent weapon in the fight for Catholic orthodoxy, however strange this may appear to present-day Catholics.

Francisco sanches (15501623), a Portuguese (or Spanish) philosopher and physician, published in 1581 his Tractatus de multum nobili et prima universali scientia quod nihil scitur. All of his writings end with the question Quid? to underline the fact that when all is said the basic question still remains unanswered. "The more I think, the more I doubt," Sanches wrote. "What can I say," he asked, "that is not open to suspicion? For to me, all human affairs are suspect, even the very things I write at this moment" [Quod nihil scitur, ed. J. de Carvalho; Opera philosophica (Coimbra 1955) 8]. God alone knows all. Hence faith and the holy Scriptures must be set apart from the things to be doubted (ibid., 49), and so Sanches falls into the fideistic pattern of Renaissance skepticism.

Modern Philosophy. As philosophy moved into the modern era, the influence of ancient skepticism seemed to increase rather than diminish. Blaise Pascal's skeptical cry "Le Pyrrhonisme est le vrai," with its fideistic orientation, does not seem particularly original in itself, nor does René Descartes's arsenal of skeptical arguments in the Discours de la méthode and the Méditations sur la philosophie première. Viewed in the context of Renaissance skepticism, Descartes's initial doubt comes into focus not as a set of personal problems, but as the expression of stock arguments that had been bandied about by countless philosophers for the previous 200 years at least, and that were still popular with his contemporaries.

Revival of Sextus Empiricus. Pierre gassendi (15921655), though not a full-fledged skeptic, was impressed with the works of Sextus Empiricus. Bayle's Dictionnaire (see below) refers to a summary of Sextus Empiricus in Gassendi's De fine logicae that greatly influenced contemporary thought (Dict., 2306). The last chapter of the second book of Gassendi's Exerci tationes paradoxicae adversus Aristoteleos (Amsterdam 1649) is entitled: Quod nulla sit scientia et maxime Aristotelea. F. de la Mothe le Vayer (15881672) and S. J. Sorbière (161570), a disciple of Gassendi's, carried on the skeptical tradition well into the Cartesian period. In his Opuscule ou Petit Traité sceptique, published in Paris in 1646, towards the end of Descartes's career, the former extols the Pyrrhonian ποχή as the only reasonable attitude (Opuscule, 170). He believes that skepticism, of which he considers Sextus to have been the prime exponent [cf. Cincq Dialogues (Mons 1671) 1], is in full accord with the condemnations of worldly wisdom by St. Paul and Isaiah (Opuscule, 19798) and therefore harmonizes best with Christian revelation (ibid., 20001).

In the modern period, skepticism has often assumed the role of an indispensable prolegomenon to critical philosophical speculation, or has served to clear the way for reliance on the new methods of science. No doubt the thorough going skeptics of antiquity would have frowned on such fideistic or positivistic orientations.

Huet and Bayle. Pierre Daniel huet (16301721), a French bishop who severely criticized Descartes's philosophy, wrote a work on the weakness of the human mind (Traité philosophique de la faiblesse de l'esprit humain, Amsterdam 1723). In it he expresses admiration for Pyrrhonism [ed. of London (1741) 12531], which lays bare the imperfections of human knowledge (ibid., 2021) and forces men to acknowledge the role of faith as an aid to the "faltering understanding."

Pierre bayle (16471706), author of the famous Dictionnaire historique et critique, was a fervent reader of Montaigne's Essais. On the subject of Pyrrhonism, he assures his readers that most physicists of his day are convinced of the incomprehensibility of nature, and thus agree with Pyrrhonism and the Academy (2d ed., 2306). Like Pascal and Saint-Cyran, he sees skepticism as a chastening experience by which men are led to the Christian faith (2d ed., 2308).

Others. David Hume's critique of substance and causality leads to a phenomenalistic philosophy that owes much to reflection on the methods of the physical sciences. Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason presupposes Hume's attack on traditional concepts, and pronounces the noumena or natures of things to be unknowable. Critical philosophy appears as the crowning achievement of the mind, presupposing an earlier skeptical phase. Further inquiries would reveal skeptical components or prerequisites in other modern and contemporary philosophical systems, such as logical positivism, and Herbert Spencer's or Francis Herbert Bradley's peculiar brands of agnosticism.

Nature Of Skepticism

Sextus, whom most authors acknowledge to have been the major exponent of Pyrrhonism, defines skepticism as a mental attitude or a capacity (Gr. δύναμις) to recognize the opposition of appearances and judgments, thence to suspend judgment, and finally to achieve the mental tranquillity that dogmatists vainly seek to attain by rash assertions (Pyrrh. Hyp., 1.6). The word δύναμις in the Greek text is meant to indicate that skepticism of the Pyrrhonian variety refuses to be considered as a speculative system or as a philosophy. Renaissance and modern skeptics (e.g., Montaigne, Sanches, Pascal, and Hume) tend to differ from their ancient counterparts in that suspension of judgment becomes for them a steppingstone to something else. This certainly accounts for the greater earnestness of modern skeptics. They do not seek suspension of judgment merely for the sake of tranquillity, but to make the mind receptive to revelation, to science, or to some great philosophical intuition.

Basic Concepts. A careful reading of Sextus reveals three main components of the skeptic attitude: equipollence, suspension of judgment, and tranquillity. The first means the equality of arguments on both sides of any question. It presupposes contrariety in man's perception of reality, and controversy in the accounts given of the same things by different people. The second, suspension of judgment, results from equipollence and controversy. It involves negative attitudes to definition (Gr. οριστία), external expression (Gr. φασία), and inclination (Gr. ρρεψία). The third component of the skeptic attitude or method is tranquillity (Gr. ταραξία). The resolve to suspend judgment removes the mental anguish or uneasiness attendant on a dogmatist search for truth. Applied to the passions, tranquillity becomes apathy or metriopathy, or again, indifferencethe external expression of Pyrrhonian quietude.

Sextus tries to avoid the contradictions of φασία or ποχή by stating that his propositions are not meant to be dogmatic assertions or judgments, but mere expressions of what appears to him. He is no more attached to them than to their opposites. The very phrase "no more this than that" (ο[symbol omitted]δέν μ[symbol omitted]λλον) cancels itself out, along with everything else (Pyrrh. Hyp. 1.7, 18, 19).

Tropes are systematic means of ensuring suspension of judgment. Sextus lays great store by the ten tropes of Aenesidemus, directed mainly against sensation, which he develops at great length (ibid., 1.14). The reliability of sense impressions is questioned because of (1) differences in animals, which make for differences in the impressions they receive from the same objects; (2) differences in men; (3) differences in the senses of an individual man; (4) differences in the circumstances or states of a man; (5) the different positions and places occupied by a person; (6) diverse relationships and mixtures in which an object is implicated when it impinges on a sense; (7) diverse conditions or underlying structures of the object; (8) the general relativity of all things, which precludes statements as to their natures; (9) differences in one's perception of an event as a result of its frequent or rare occurrence; and (10) in ethical matters, differences of laws, habits, and customs.

Agrippa's five dialectical tropes present a sequence of logical traps designed to thwart any attempt at valid reasoning (Pyrrh. Hyp. 1.15). The first trope sets forth the fact of controversy, which prevents the mind from giving assent to anything. If one tries to prove the truth of an opinion, he must prove the premise of his proof and so on ad infinitum (2d trope). He may wish to avoid infinite regress in any one of three ways, immediate experience, hypothesis or postulate, and circular reasoning, but these are blocked off by the remaining three tropes. Immediate experience is relative to the subject and does not make known the being of the object. There is no justification for assuming a given hypothesis rather than its opposite. And finally proving the same by the same amounts to no proof at all. Diogenes's account follows the same order. Sextus presents two further tropes on the impossibility of apprehending an object (ibid., 1.16) and eight other modes against causal explanation (ibid., 1.17).

Evaluation. It is impossible to evaluate generally all authors who manifest some affinity or admiration for the skeptical attitude. Hence the judgment here bears primarily on the form of skepticism commonly regarded as the most radical, the most influential, and the most highly developed, i.e., that expounded by Sextus Empiricus.

Careful scrutiny of the works of Sextus reveals two distinct phases, or aspects, in the total attitude. The first stems directly from the difficulties experienced in man's knowledge of reality and the endless controversies among proponents of various explanations. It involves uneasiness and frustration of the mind in its search for truth. Doubt and suspension of judgment flow from an incapacity to unravel the difficulties of being and cognition. Pascal or Hume probably never got much beyond this stage. However the Pyrrhonians, confronted as they were with the stupendous dogmatic constructions of the Epicureans and Stoics, came to look upon their ποχή as something to be nurtured and valued, particularly as compared to the rash opinions of other thinkers.

Unwittingly, a second phase or aspect then took form. Principles such as that of equipollence reflect a crystallization of doubt. Suspension of judgment becomes a systematic reaction to all opinions, thus stifling the search for truth, ποχή, which ordinarily gives no cause for rejoicing, produces peace of mind.

The elements of both phases combine to constitute the final attitude. The skeptic sees himself as still searching for truth, but the systematization of doubt in the many tropes, the willingness to reject arguments on the a priori ground that some future thinker may be able to prove them invalid, reveal basic contradictions in his radical skepticism. Many texts express an uneasy awareness of these incompatible elements. The numerous attempts to correct the apparent dogmatism of language, the use of analogies such as that of the ladder (which is toppled after an ascent), of the fire (which consumes itself), of the cathartic (which eliminates itself along with body wastes), these and many others represent efforts to reconcile the inner contradictions of radical skepticism.

The problems of practical living represent the major stumbling block of skepticism. The mind may refuse assent in speculative matters, but the requirements of everyday life are incompatible with a universal ποχή or with the sophistic tendencies inherent in equipollence.

However, historians owe a debt of gratitude to skeptics for the wealth of materials relating to ancient thought they preserve in their writings. Again, their relentless attacks on dogmatism impresses upon the nonskeptic the limitations of human knowledge, the importance of moderation in judgment, and the necessity of a rigorous method in the search for truth.

See Also: certitude; epistemology; knowledge; knowledge, theories of; truth.

Bibliography: sextus empiricus, Opera, ed. h. mutschmann and j. mau, 3 v. (Leipzig 1958); tr. r. g. bury, 3 v. (Loeb Classical Library 193336). diogenes laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, tr. r. d. hicks, 2 v. (Loeb Classical Library 184, 185; rev. ed. 1942) bk. 9. cicero, De natura deorum; Academica, tr. h. rackham (Loeb Classical Library 268; 1956). r. h. popkin, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes (Assen 1960). e. r. bevan, Stoics and Sceptics (Oxford 1913). a. goedeckemeyer, Die Geschichte des griechischen Skeptizismus (Leipzig 1905). v. c. l. brochard, Les Sceptiques grecs (2d ed. Paris 1923). f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy (Westminster, Md. 1946 ); v.3, Descartes to Leibniz (1958).

[v. cauchy]

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Skepticism

SKEPTICISM

Skepticism has a long history that includes multiple meanings and in the early twenty-first century has complex ethical implications for science and technology. It plays an important role within science and technology but also can be applied to the same areas. In the former case skepticism may serve as a means to reject mistaken or false claims, limit fraud and misconduct, and produce evaluations of engineering designs and the safety of technologies. In the latter case skepticism may help the public place the benefits of science and technology in a larger perspective, although it also may deprive the public of certain real benefits.


Antecedents

The roots of skepticism can be traced back at least 2,500 years to the ancient Greeks. The historian of skepticism Richard Popkin states: "Academic scepticism, so-called because it was formulated in the Platonic Academy in the third century, b.c.e., developed from the Socratic observation, 'All I know is that I know nothing'" (Popkin 1979, p. xiii). In fact, the philosopher Pyrrho and his followers doubted the possibility of real knowledge of any kind, a viewpoint that led to a form of nihilism. Skepticism in this sense is a positive assertion about knowledge and thus cannot be held seriously if it is turned on itself: If one is skeptical about everything, one also has to be skeptical about one's own skepticism. Like a decaying subatomic particle pure skepticism uncoils and spins off the viewing screen of the mind's intellectual cloud chamber.


A more pragmatic meaning of the word skeptic can be found in the Greek word skepsis, which means "examination, inquiry, consideration." The Oxford English Dictionary gives this historical usage: "One who doubts the validity of what claims to be knowledge in some particular department of inquiry; one who maintains a doubting attitude with reference to some particular question or statement," along with "a seeker after truth; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite convictions." Skepticism is not "seek and ye shall find" but "seek and keep an open mind." In this context having an open mind means finding the essential balance between orthodoxy and heresy, between a total commitment to the status quo and the blind pursuit of new ideas, between being open-minded enough to accept radical new ideas and being so open-minded that one's brain cannot function.

Since the time of the ancient Greeks skepticism has evolved along with other epistemologies. On one level the Enlightenment was a century-long skeptical movement because there were few beliefs or institutions that did not come under the critical scrutiny of thinkers such as Voltaire (1694–1778), Denis Diderot (1713–1784), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), John Locke (1632–1704), and Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). David Hume (1711–1776) in Scotland and Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) in Germany were skeptics' skeptics in an age of skepticism, and their influence continues to be felt in the early 2000s. In the twentieth century Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) and Harry Houdini (1874–1926) stood out as representatives of skeptical intellectuals and activists, respectively. Martin Gardner's Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952) launched the contemporary skeptical movement.


The Contemporary Skeptical Movement

Starting in the 1970s, the magician James "the Amazing" Randi's psychic challenges and media appearances pushed the skeptical movement to the forefront of public consciousness. In 1976 the philosopher Paul Kurtz (born 1925) founded an international skeptical organization called the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), and in 1991 Michael Shermer cofounded the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine. This has led to the formation of a burgeoning group of people calling themselves skeptics who conduct investigations, hold monthly meetings and annual conferences, and provide the media and the general public with natural explanations for apparently supernatural phenomena.

Although intellectual skepticism flourishes in academia, skeptical activism has emerged as a powerful force in the application of science to all claims. In fact modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, which involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to an extent where it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. However, all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and skepticism thus is a method that leads to provisional conclusions.

Some claims, such as water dowsing, extrasensory perception (ESP), and creationism, have been tested and have failed the tests often enough that they may be rejected provisionally as false. Other claims, such as hypnosis, near-death experiences, and neurological correlates of consciousness, also have been tested, but the results have been inconclusive. Finally, there are claims, such as string theory, inflationary cosmology, and multiple or parallel universes, that are theoretically possible but have not been tested empirically. The key to skepticism is to apply the methods of science continuously and vigorously to make it possible to navigate the straits between "know nothing" skepticism and "anything goes" credulity. In this sense skepticism is the ethical component of science. It is the attitude that keeps the scientific method honest, the canary in the scientist's mine.


Ethical Issues

In regard to ethical concerns it is important to recognize the fallibility of science and skepticism. Although scientific skepticism is well suited for identifying certain kinds of mistakes and errors in thinking, such as what are called type I errors, or false positives, its standards are so high that it occasionally leads to the commission of a type II error, or false negative, failing to identify, for example, potential lifesaving medicines.

However, within this fallibility there are opportunities for self-correction. Whether mistakes are made honestly or dishonestly, whether a fraud is perpetrated unknowingly or knowingly, in time it will be recognized. The cold fusion fiasco in the late 1980s was a classic example of how organized skepticism can identify hype and error. Because of the importance of this self-correcting feature, there is in the profession what the Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman called "a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards." As Feynman explained: "If you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results" (1988, p. 247). Of course, not all scientists live up to this ideal.

What separates skepticism and science from other human activities is the tentative nature of all conclusions: There are no final absolutes, only varying degrees of probability. Skepticism is not the affirmation of a set of beliefs but a process of inquiry that leads to the building of a testable body of knowledge that is open to rejection or confirmation. In skepticism, knowledge is fluid and certainty is fleeting. That is the heart of its limitation and its greatest strength.


MICHAEL SHERMER

SEE ALSO Libertarianism; Locke, John; Merton, Robert; Pseudoscience; Tocqueville, Alexis de; Wittgenstein, Ludwig.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Feynman, Richard P. (1988). What Do YOU Care What Other People Think? New York: Norton. A collection of first-person accounts by a Nobel laureate on how science is done, including his investigation into the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Gardner, Martin. (1982 [1952]). Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. New York: Dover. The book that launched the skeptical movement. Still current after fifty years, it covers unidentified flying objects, scientology, alternative medical claims, and ways to detect pseudoscience.

Hecht, Jennifer Michael. (2003). Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Motivation, from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson. San Francisco: Harper. A comprehensive history of skepticism from the ancient Greeks to modern atheists; includes both intellectuals and activists.

Popkin, Richard H. (1979). The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza. Berkeley: University of California Press. An excellent history of intellectual skepticism by a philosopher and skeptic.

Randi, James. (1985). Flim Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and Other Delusions. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books. The classic work of a master investigator of psychics and scam artists; includes his many personal investigations into the world of the paranormal.

Shermer, Michael. (1997). Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. New York: Freeman. A skeptical and scientific manifesto that includes analyses of creationism, Holocaust denial, immortality, near-death experiences, cults, and the nature of pseudoscience and superstition.

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