Philosophical Skepticism

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Skeptics have challenged the adequacy or reliability of these claims by asking what principles they are based upon or what they actually establish. They have questioned whether some such claims really are, as alleged , indubitable or necessarily true, and they have challenged the purported rational grounds of accepted assumptions.

In everyday life, practically everyone is skeptical about some knowledge claims; but philosophical skeptics have doubted the possibility of any knowledge beyond that of the contents of directly felt experience. From ancient times onward skeptics have developed arguments to undermine the contentions of dogmatic philosophers, scientists, and theologians. The skeptical arguments and their employment against various forms of dogmatism have played an important role in shaping both the problems and the solutions offered in the course of Western philosophy.

As ancient philosophy and science developed, doubts arose about various basic, widely accepted beliefs about the world. In ancient times, skeptics challenged the claims of Plato and Aristotle and their followers, as well as those of the Stoics ; and during the Renaissance similar challenges were raised against the claims of Scholasticism and Calvinism.

Is Skepticism Ridiculous? | Issue 53 | Philosophy Now

Later, a skeptical offensive was leveled against the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant and then against the philosophical idealist Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and his followers. Each challenge led to new attempts to resolve the skeptical difficulties. Skepticism , especially since the Enlightenment, has come to mean disbelief—primarily religious disbelief—and the skeptic has often been likened to the village atheist. Skepticism developed with regard to various disciplines in which people claimed to have knowledge. It was questioned, for example, whether one could gain any certain knowledge in metaphysics the philosophical study of the basic nature, structure, or elements of reality or in the sciences.

In ancient times a chief form of skepticism was medical skepticism, which questioned whether one could know with certainty either the causes or cures of diseases. In the area of ethics , doubts were raised about accepting various mores and customs and about claiming any objective basis for making judgments of value. Skeptics of religion have questioned the doctrines of different traditions. Certain philosophies, like those of Kant and his Scottish contemporary David Hume , have seemed to show that no knowledge can be gained beyond the world of experience and that one cannot discover the real causes of experienced phenomena.

A dominant form of skepticism the subject of this article concerns knowledge in general, questioning whether anything actually can be known with complete or adequate certainty. This type is called epistemological skepticism. Forms of skepticism can also be distinguished in terms of the motivation of the skeptic—whether he is challenging views for ideological reasons or for pragmatic or practical ones in order to attain certain psychological goals. Among the chief ideological motives have been religious or antireligious concerns.

Skepticism - In Our Time

Some skeptics have challenged knowledge claims so that they could be replaced by religious claims that would have to be accepted on the basis of faith. My puppy is a loyal companion, and my computer is a powerful instrument, but neither of them can engage in a decent conversation.

Please read the following passages from Descartes from the Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditations 1 and ll. Focus on the big ideas written by Descartes. Skip to main content. Module 4: Exploring Epistemology. Search for:. Skepticism Knowledge: Is it Possible? Divide every question into manageable parts.

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Our hosts discuss one of the deepest and most fertile philosophical traditions with John Greco from St. John Greco joins Ken and John in their discussion of Skepticism. Greco states that one of the most radical forms of skepticism is one of the most deep and fundamental kinds of skepticism.

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Greco thinks that what's interesting about skepticism is not that there are strictly philosophically skeptical people - it's the arguments that start from innocent premises and reach astounding conclusions. Ken asks for an example.

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The gist of Descartes argument is that the kind of evidence we have for our beliefs underdetermines what to believe. To support this point, John gives Bertrand Russell's example. Suppose you had a series of dreams that picked up from where it let off the previous night. In such a situation, how could you distinguish your 'dream' life from your 'real' life?

Greco states the subtle point that the skeptic never actually claims that we are really dreaming instead of living.

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The skeptic claims that our current evidence does not rule out the possibility that we may actually be dreaming. John explains that there are alternative explanations that describe a given situation. If you find two kids in a room and one has his mouth smeared with chocolate, one explanation is that the kid who has chocolate smeared on his mouth ate the cookie.

Another is that the kid with the clean mouth ate it and smeared the cookie on the mouth of his friend to deflect the blame. John asks how we block these alternative explanations.


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Greco expands on this point by saying that skeptic starts from very innocent, intuitive points such as the multiple explanations for a single situation and arrives at clearly wrong conclusions. He likens the skeptic's arguments to Zeno's paradox that there is no motion.

Skepticism Philosophy Summary

Clearly, Zeno's argument has gone wrong somewhere. Similarly, clearly, the skeptic must have gone wrong somewhere.


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John thinks that skepticism can lead to a fruitful inquiry in the following way. Take the Sorites Paradox.