Skepticism Essay

Skepticism Essay

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Skepticism


Skepticism is the Western philosophical tradition that maintains that human beings can never arrive at any kind of certain knowledge. Originating in Greece in the middle of the fourth century BC, skepticism and its derivatives are based on the following principles:
There is no such thing as certainty in human knowledge.
All human knowledge is only probably true, that is, true most of the time, or not true.
Several non-Western cultures have skeptical traditions, particularly Buddhist philosophy, but properly speaking, skepticism refers only to a Greek philosophical tradition and its Greek, Roman, and European derivatives.

The school of Skeptic philosophers were called the "Skeptikoi" in Greece. The word is derived from the Greek verb, "skeptomai," which means "to look carefully, to reflect." The hallmark of the skeptikoi was caution; they refused to be caught in assertions that could be proven false. In fact, the entire system of skeptic philosophy was to present all knowledge as opinion only, that is, to assert nothing as true.

In this, they were firmly planted in a tradition started a century earlier by Socrates. Socrates claimed that he knew one and only one thing: that he knew nothing. So he would never go about making any assertions or opinions whatsoever. Instead, he set about questioning people who claimed to have knowledge, ostensibly for the purpose of learning from them, using a judicial cross-examination, called elenchus . If someone made an assertion, such as, "Virtue means acting in accordance with public morality, " he would keep questioning the speaker until he had forced him into a contradiction. As in a court of law, this contradiction proved that the speaker was lying in som...


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...at a certain piece of knowledge, that piece of knowledge then becomes the basis for clearing up other doubts. Descartes systematic doubt became the basis of the Enlightenment and modern scientific tradition. One begins with a proposition, or hypothesis, that is in doubt and then tests that proposition until one arrives, more or less, at a certain conclusion. That does not, however, end the story. When confronted by the conclusions of others, one's job is to doubt those conclusions and redo the tests. Once a hypothesis has been tested and retested, then one can conclude that one has arrived at a "scientific truth." That, of course, doesn't end it, for all scientific truths can be doubted sometime in the future. In other words, although scientists speak about certainty and truth all the time, the foundational epistemology is skeptical: doubt anything and everything.

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