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Philosophical Skepticism

Updated on February 8, 2013

One universal yet controversial philosophy is Skepticism, forming the basis for most alternative philosophical thinking. The legitimacy of a skeptic is always doubtful, imitating the way the skeptic’s opinions are sculpted. Skepticism is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object"[1]. Regardless, skeptical thinking is parallel with curiosity and consequently has a diverse impact on mankind. Michael J. Giarlo wrote that it “seems folly to suggest that skepticism plays no role in how human beings seek and use information.”[2] Dorothy Parker said, “[t]here is no cure for curiosity”[3], irrespective to the curiosity that drives humans to be sceptical, the philosophy itself remains disputed.

Scepticism is a heavily disputed topic, causing queries questioning its authenticity to arise. The largest problem that is evident is the self-refuting nature of Philosophical Skepticism is it cannot be rationally accepted. Professor of philosophy Michael Huemer stated that “some forms of skepticism are self-defeating, particularly the view that there is no justification for believing anything. However, the view that there is no justification for beliefs about the external world is not.”[4] Therefore a faithful skeptic is a person who believes in irrational Philosophical Skepticism or ‘radical disagreement’, and he admits that anything can either be confirmed or rejected as knowledge. Dan Turner wrote; “scepticism entails that, just as the sceptic does not know that we do not know anything, so we do not know that we do know anything, and, moreover, that we do not know anything.”[5] There are many reasons why humans are skeptical, but the cognitive viewpoint insights the physical truth to this question. B.C. Brookes mathematically explains that “the fundamental equation”[6] shows that alternative information effects knowledge structure. Resultantly a new knowledge is developed which partially accounts for the alternative information triggering skepticism.[7] Only once these explanations are comprehended can the reasons skepticism occur be understood.

If skeptical thinking is unjustified, how does Skepticism impress upon others? Through Scholasticism it’s evident that Skepticism is the cause and effect of great thinking and opinion. For example, the Middle Age Scholastics’ critical discussions of Aristotle forged “a new intellectual spirit, increasingly perceptive, skeptical, and open to fundamental change”[8] as summarized by Professor Richard Tarnas. The Skeptics Society is a universal group promoting skeptical thinking in the modern world as have prior Philosophers. The Society claims skepticism “…is the application of reason to all claims…Investigating the paranormal, fringe science, pseudoscience, and extraordinary claims of all kinds, promoting critical thinking, and serving as an educational tool for those seeking a sound scientific viewpoint.”[9] Skepticism is a natural trait for all mankind, eminently shown in modern debates such as Climate Change actuality. Research undertaken by Portland School of Community Health suggests that behaviour in response to Climate Change hasn’t changed largely due to skeptical thoughts surrounding the topic.[10] Skepticism is a highly contentious philosophy due to the opinionative nature of its belief.

Skepticism is a broad yet unique philosophy, heavily disputed in nature, but specifically extends within all areas of thinking. A skeptic’s views are made abundant because of the self-refuting nature of his belief, nonetheless the views are irrationally correct. Regardless of the illogical definition of Skepticism, natural curiosity and doubt of which the philosophy is derived constitute it inescapable. Huemer emphasizes his point by summarizing; “if radical skepticism is a challenge to our common sense beliefs, it is, in exactly the same way, a challenge to itself.”[11] Therefore Skepticism cannot be rationally accepted, meanwhile it continually impacts on humanity.


[1] Merriam – Webster Online Dictionary (2012)

[2] Giarlo, Michael J. (2006)'The role of skepticism in human-information behavior: a cognitive-affective analysis'. The State University of New Jersey, Library Student Journal. Issued September.

[3] Dorothy Parker – source unknown

[4] Huemer, Michael (2001) Skepticism and the Veil of Perception. Rowman and Littlefield.

[5] Turner, Dan in; Huemer, Michael. ibid. (2001) pp 28

[6] “The Fundamentalist Equation” of information science: K[S] + ∆I = K[S + ∆S]

[7] Brookes, B.C. (1980). The foundations of information science. Part I: Philosophical Aspects. Journal of Information Science, ed 2, p 131.

[8] Tarnas, Richard (1996) The Passion of the Western Mind. Pimlico Publishers, London. UK edition. pp 200

[9] Skeptic: Skeptics Society / about us (2012)

[10] Jan C. Semenza and others. (2008) ‘Public Perception of Climate Change,’ American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Volume 35, Issue 5, pp 479-487.

[11] Huemer, op. cit.

Bibliography

Brookes, B.C. (1980). The foundations of information science. Part I: Philosophical Aspects. Journal of Information Science, ed 2, p 131.

Giarlo, Michael J. (2006)'The role of skepticism in human-information behavior: a cognitive-affective analysis'. The State University of New Jersey, Library Student Journal. Issued September.

http://lackoftalent.org/michael/papers/510.pdf

Huemer, Michael. (2001) [Google books] Skepticism and the Veil of Perception. Rowman and Littlefield Pub.

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=ccmNDGIiJ3IC&lpg=PR9&ots=wTcz2C4eo1&dq=skepticism&lr&pg=PR7#v=onepage&q=skepticism&f=true

Jan C. Semenza and others. (2008) ‘Public Perception of Climate Change,’ American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Volume 35, Issue 5, pp 479-487.

http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(08)00683-1/fulltext#back-bib21

Rohmann, Chris. (1999) A World of Ideas. The Random House Publishing Group, USA.Medicine. Volume 35, Issue 5, pp 479-487.

Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter. (2006) [Google books] Moral Skepticisms. Oxford University Press, New York. http://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=DpNCuC5Pk94C&oi=fnd&pg=PR11&dq=skepticisms+effect&ots=UeAq4I0IiE&sig=HYR_pBxM8f1OMEzQYkSt-kI6dbA#v=onepage&q=skepticisms%20effect&f=false

Tarnas, Richard. (1996) the Passion of the Western Mind. Pimlico Publishers, London. UK edition.

Dictionary.com: Skepticism (2009)

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/skepticism

Merriam – Webster Online Dictionary (2012)

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/skepticism

Skeptic: Skeptics Society http://www.skeptic.com/

Wikipedia Online Encyclopaedia: Skepticism (25 August 2012)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skepticism

Wikipedia Online Encyclopaedia: Philosophical Skepticism (19 August 2012)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_skepticism

Wikipedia Online Encyclopaedia: The Skeptics Society (17 August 2012)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Skeptics_Society

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