PHILOSOPHICAL SKEPTICISM (UK spelling SCEPTICISM; from Greek σκέψις skepsis, "inquiry") is both a philosophical school of thought and a method that questions the possibility of certainty in knowledge. It is generally agreed that knowledge requires justification. It is not enough to have a true belief: one must also have good reasons for that belief. Skeptics claim that it is not possible to have an adequate justification.
Skepticism is not a single position but covers a range of different positions. In the ancient world there were two main skeptical traditions. Academic skepticism took the dogmatic position that knowledge was not possible; Pyrrhonian skeptics refused to take a dogmatic position on any issue—including skepticism. Radical skepticism ends in the paradoxical claim that one cannot know anything—including that one cannot know about knowing anything.
Skepticism can be classified according to its scope. Local skepticism involves being skeptical about particular areas of knowledge, e.g. moral skepticism, skepticism about the external world, or skepticism about other minds, whereas global skepticism is skeptical about the possibility of any knowledge at all.
Skepticism can also be classified according to its method. In the Western tradition there are two basic approaches to skepticism. Cartesian skepticism —named somewhat misleadingly after René Descartes , who was not a skeptic but used some traditional skeptical arguments in his Meditations to help establish his rationalist approach to knowledge— attempts to show that any proposed knowledge claim can be doubted. Agrippan skepticism focuses on the process of justification rather than the possibility of doubt. According to this view there are three ways in which one might attempt to justify a claim but none of them are adequate: one can keep on providing further justification but this leads to an infinite regress; one can stop at a dogmatic assertion; or one can argue in circular reasoning, never reaching a viable conclusion.
Philosophical skepticism is distinguished from methodological skepticism in that philosophical skepticism is an approach that questions the possibility of certainty in knowledge , whereas methodological skepticism is an approach that subjects all knowledge claims to scrutiny with the goal of sorting out true from false claims.
* 1 History
* 1.1 Ancient Indian skepticism
* 1.2 Ancient chinese philosophy
* 1.4 Medieval Arabic philosophy
* 2 Schools
* 3.1 Kant\'s skepticism and its influence on German philosophy * 3.2 Criticism of skepticism
* 4 Skeptical hypotheses * 5 See also * 6 References * 7 Further reading * 8 External links
ANCIENT INDIAN SKEPTICISM
Main article: Ajñana
Ajñana were the sceptical school of ancient Indian philosophy. It was a śramaṇa movement and a major rival of early Buddhism and Jainism. They have been recorded in Buddhist and Jain texts. They held that it was impossible to obtain knowledge of metaphysical nature or ascertain the truth value of philosophical propositions; and even if knowledge was possible, it was useless and disadvantageous for final salvation.
Buddhist skepticism (
* Buddha is said to have touched the earth at the time of his
enlightenment so that it could witness his enlightenment. In this way,
Buddhism does not claim that knowledge is unattainable.
* Buddhism places less emphasis on truth and knowledge than western
philosophical skepticism. Instead, it emphasizes the goal of
The Cārvāka (Sanskrit: चार्वाक) school of skepticism, also known as Lokāyata, is a distinct branch of Indian philosophy. The school is named after Cārvāka, author of the Bārhaspatya-sūtras and was founded in approximately 500 BC. Cārvāka is classified as a "heterodox" (nāstika) system, characterized as a materialistic and atheistic school of thought.
ANEKāNTAVāDA also known as the principle of relative pluralism , is
one of the basic principles of
* SYāD-ASTI – “in some ways it is”, * SYāD-NāSTI - “in some ways it is not”, * SYāD-ASTI-NāSTI - “in some ways it is and it is not”, * SYāD-ASTI-AVAKTAVYAḥ - “in some ways it is and it is indescribable”, * SYāD-NāSTI-AVAKTAVYAḥ - “in some ways it is not and it is indescribable”, * SYāD-ASTI-NāSTI-AVAKTAVYAḥ - “in some ways it is, it is not and it is indescribable”, * SYāD-AVAKTAVYAḥ- “in some ways it is indescribable”
Each of these seven propositions examines the complex and
multifaceted reality from a relative point of view of time, space,
substance and mode. To ignore the complexity of the objects is to
commit the fallacy of dogmatism. For a rigorous logical and
mathematical interpretation see M. K. Jain,
ANCIENT CHINESE PHILOSOPHY
In China, the preeminent
Wang Chong introduced a form of naturalism based on a rational
critique of the superstition that was overtaking
ANCIENT GREEK SKEPTICISM
The Western tradition of systematic skepticism goes back at least as
"Whoever wants to live well (eudaimonia ) must consider these three questions: First, how are pragmata (ethical matters, affairs, topics) by nature? Secondly, what attitude should we adopt towards them? Thirdly, what will be the outcome for those who have this attitude?" Pyrrho's answer is that "As for pragmata they are all adiaphora (undifferentiated by a logical differentia), astathmēta (unstable, unbalanced, not measurable), and anepikrita (unjudged, unfixed, undecidable). Therefore, neither our sense-perceptions nor our doxai (views, theories, beliefs) tell us the truth or lie; so we certainly should not rely on them. Rather, we should be adoxastous (without views), aklineis (uninclined toward this side or that), and akradantous (unwavering in our refusal to choose), saying about every single one that it no more is than it is not or it both is and is not or it neither is nor is not.
The main principle of Pyrrho's thought is expressed by the word acatalepsia , which connotes the ability to withhold assent from doctrines regarding the truth of things in their own nature ; against every statement its contradiction may be advanced with equal justification.
Pyrrhonists are not "skeptics" in the modern, common sense of the term, meaning prone to disbelief. They had the goal of αταραξια (ataraxia - peace of mind), and pitted one dogma against another to undermine belief in dogmatic propositions. The idea was to produce in the student a state of indifference towards ideas about non-evident matters. Since no one can observe or otherwise experience causation, external world (its "externality"), ultimate purpose of the universe or life, justice, divinity, soul, etc., they declared no need to believe in such things. The Pyrrhonists pointed out that, despite claims that such notions were necessary, some people ignorant of them get by just fine before learning about them. They further noted that science does not require belief and that faith in intelligible realities is different from pragmatic convention for the sake of experiment. For each intuitive notion (e.g. the existence of an external world), the Pyrrhonists cited a contrary opinion to negate it. They added that consensus indicates neither truth nor even probability.
Pyrrho's thinking subsequently influenced Plato's
* Some things give animals pleasure which give other animals pain. What is useful to one animal is harmful to another. * Each human has a different assortment of preferences, abilities and interests. * Each sense gives a different impression of the same object. * There is no reason to think one is sane while others are insane—the opposite could be true. * Cultures disagree regarding beauty, truth, goodness, religion, life and justice. * There is no consistency in perception. (His examples were that the color purple will show different tints depending on the lighting, a person looks different between noon and sunset, and a very heavy rock on land is lighter when in water) * The senses can be shown to be deceptive. (From a distance, the square tower looks round and the sun looks small) * Things that strengthen in moderation will weaken when taken in excess, like wine and food. * When a thing is rare, it surprises people. When a thing is common, it does not surprise people. * Inter-relations among things are of course relative, and by themselves are unknowable. (e.g. to know 'parent' you must know 'child,' and to know 'child' you must know 'parent.' Neither can be known by itself.)
In the centuries to come, the words Academician and Pyrrhonist would often be used to mean generally skeptic, often ignoring historical changes and distinctions between denial of knowledge and avoidance of belief, between degree of belief and absolute belief, and between possibility and probability.
Empiricus, as the most systematic author of the works by Hellenistic sceptics which have survived, noted that there are at least ten modes of skepticism. These modes may be broken down into three categories: one may be skeptical of the subjective perceiver, of the objective world, and the relation between perceiver and the world. His arguments are as follows.
Subjectively, both the powers of the senses and of reasoning may vary among different people. And since knowledge is a product of one or the other, and since neither are reliable, knowledge would seem to be in trouble. For instance, a color-blind person sees the world quite differently from everyone else. Moreover, one cannot even give preference on the basis of the power of reason, i.e., by treating the rational animal as a carrier of greater knowledge than the irrational animal, since the irrational animal is still adept at navigating their environment, which suggests the ability to "know" about some aspects of the environment.
Secondly, the personality of the individual might also influence what they observe, since (it is argued) preferences are based on sense-impressions, differences in preferences can be attributed to differences in the way that people are affected by the object. (Empiricus:56)
Third, the perceptions of each individual sense seemingly have nothing in common with the other senses: i.e., the color "red" has little to do with the feeling of touching a red object. This is manifest when our senses "disagree" with each other: for example, a mirage presents certain visible features, but is not responsive to any other kind of sense. In that case, our other senses defeat the impressions of sight. But one may also be lacking enough powers of sense to understand the world in its entirety: if one had an extra sense, then one might know of things in a way that the present five senses are unable to advise us of. Given that our senses can be shown to be unreliable by appealing to other senses, and so our senses may be incomplete (relative to some more perfect sense that one lacks), then it follows that all of our senses may be unreliable. (Empiricus:58)
Fourth, our circumstances when one perceives anything may be either natural or unnatural, i.e., one may be either in a state of wakefulness or sleep. But it is entirely possible that things in the world really are exactly as they appear to be to those in unnatural states (i.e., if everything were an elaborate dream). (Empiricus:59)
One can have reasons for doubt that are based on the relationship between objective "facts" and subjective experience. The positions, distances, and places of objects would seem to affect how they are perceived by the person: for instance, the portico may appear tapered when viewed from one end, but symmetrical when viewed at the other; and these features are different. Because they are different features, to believe the object has both properties at the same time is to believe it has two contradictory properties. Since this is absurd, one must suspend judgment about what properties it possesses due to the contradictory experiences. (Empiricus:63)
One may also observe that the things one perceives are, in a sense, polluted by experience. Any given perception—say, of a chair—will always be perceived within some context or other (i.e., next to a table, on a mat, etc.) Since this is the case, one often only speaks of ideas as they occur in the context of the other things that are paired with it, and therefore, one can never know of the true nature of the thing, but only how it appears to us in context. (Empiricus: 64)
Along the same lines, the skeptic may insist that all things are relative, by arguing that:
* Absolute appearances either differ from relative appearances, or they do not. * If absolutes do not differ from relatives, then they are themselves relative. * But if absolutes do differ from relatives, then they are relative, because all things that differ must differ from something; and to "differ" from something is to be relative to something. (Empiricus:67)
Finally, one has reason to disbelieve that one knows anything by looking at problems in understanding objects by themselves. Things, when taken individually, may appear to be very different from when they are in mass quantities: for instance, the shavings of a goat's horn are white when taken alone, yet the horn intact is black.
MEDIEVAL ARABIC PHILOSOPHY
Islamic theology and
Islamic philosophy , the scholar Al-Ghazali
(1058–1111) is considered a pioneer of methodic doubt and skepticism
. His 11th century book titled The Incoherence of the Philosophers
marks a major turn in Islamic epistemology , as Ghazali effectively
discovered a methodic form of philosophical skepticism that would not
be commonly seen in the West until
The autobiography Ghazali wrote towards the end of his life, The
Deliverance From Error (Al-munqidh min al-ḍalāl; several English
translations ) is considered a work of major importance. In it,
Ghazali recounts how, once a crisis of epistemological skepticism was
resolved by "a light which God Most High cast into my breast...the key
to most knowledge," he studied and mastered the arguments of
Scholars have noted the similarities between Descartes' Discourse on Method and Ghazali's work and the writer George Henry Lewes went even further by claiming that "had any translation of it in the days of Descartes existed, everyone would have cried out against the plagiarism."
Philosophical skepticism begins with the claim that the skeptic currently does not have knowledge. Some adherents maintain that knowledge is, in theory, possible. It could be argued that Socrates held that view. He appears to have thought that if people continue to ask questions they might eventually come to have knowledge; but that they did not have it yet. Some skeptics have gone further and claimed that true knowledge is impossible, for example the Academic school in Ancient Greece well after the time of Carneades. A third skeptical approach would be neither to accept nor reject the possibility of knowledge.
Skepticism can be either about everything or about particular areas. A 'global' skeptic argues that he does not absolutely know anything to be either true or false. Academic global skepticism has great difficulty in supporting this claim while maintaining philosophical rigor, since it seems to require that nothing can be known—except for the knowledge that nothing can be known, though in its probabilistic form it can use and support the notion of weight of evidence. Thus, some probabilists avoid extreme skepticism by maintaining that they merely are 'reasonably certain' (or 'largely believe') some things are real or true. As for using probabilistic arguments to defend skepticism, in a sense this enlarges or increases scepticism, while the defence of empiricism by Empiricus weakens skepticism and strengthens dogmatism by alleging that sensory appearances are beyond doubt. Much later, Kant would re-define "dogmatism" to make indirect realism about the external world seem objectionable. While many Hellenists, outside of Empiricus, would maintain that everyone who is not sceptical about everything is a dogmatist, this position would seem too extreme for most later philosophers.
Nevertheless, A Pyrrhonian global skeptic labors under no such modern constraint, since he only alleged that he, personally, did not know anything and made no statement about the possibility of knowledge. Nor did Arcesilaus feel bound, since he merely corrected Socrates's "I only know that I know nothing" by adding "I don't even know that", thus more fully rejecting dogmatism.
Local skeptics deny that people do or can have knowledge of a particular area. They may be skeptical about the possibility of one form of knowledge without doubting other forms. Different kinds of local skepticism may emerge, depending on the area. A person may doubt the truth value of different types of journalism, for example, depending on the types of media they trust.
EPISTEMOLOGY AND SKEPTICISM
Skepticism, as an epistemological argument, poses the question of
whether knowledge, in the first place, is possible. Skeptics argue
that the belief in something does not necessarily justify an assertion
of knowledge of it. In this, skeptics oppose dogmatic foundationalism
, which states that there have to be some basic positions that are
self-justified or beyond justification, without reference to others.
(One example of such foundationalism may be found in
Among other arguments, skeptics used Agrippa\'s trilemma , named after Agrippa the Sceptic , to claim no certain belief could be achieved. Foundationalists have used the same trilemma as a justification for demanding the validity of basic beliefs.
This skeptical approach is rarely taken to its pyrrhonean extreme by most practitioners. Several modifications have arisen over the years, including the following :
Fictionalism would not claim to have knowledge but will adhere to conclusions on some criterion such as utility, aesthetics, or other personal criteria without claiming that any conclusion is actually "true".
Philosophical fideism (as opposed to religious
Some forms of pragmatism would accept utility as a provisional guide to truth but not necessarily a universal decision-maker.
There are two different categories of epistemological skepticism, which can be referred to as mitigated and unmitigated skepticism. The two forms are contrasting but are still true forms of skepticism . Mitigated skepticism does not accept "strong" or "strict" knowledge claims but does, however, approve specific weaker ones. These weaker claims can be assigned the title of "virtual knowledge", but must be to justified belief. Unmitigated skepticism rejects both claims of virtual knowledge and strong knowledge. Characterising knowledge as strong, weak, virtual or genuine can be determined differently depending on a person's viewpoint as well as their characterisation of knowledge.
KANT\'S SKEPTICISM AND ITS INFLUENCE ON GERMAN PHILOSOPHY
See also: Salomon Maimon
CRITICISM OF SKEPTICISM
Most philosophies have weaknesses and can be criticized and this is a general principle of progression in philosophy. The philosophy of skepticism asserts that no truth is knowable or only probable. Some say the scientific method also asserts probable findings, because the number of cases tested is always limited and they constitute perceptual observations. Another criticism is the proposition that “no truth is knowable” is knowably true is contradictory. The here is one hand argument is also another relatively simple criticism that reverses the skeptic's proposals and supports common sense.
Pierre Le Morvan (2011) has distinguished between three broad philosophical approaches to skepticism. The first he calls the "Foil Approach." According to the latter, skepticism is treated as a problem to be solved, or challenge to be met, or threat to be parried; skepticism‘s value on this view, insofar as it is deemed to have one, accrues from its role as a foil contrastively illuminating what is required for knowledge and justified belief. The second he calls the "Bypass Approach" according to which skepticism is bypassed as a central concern of epistemology. Le Morvan advocates a third approach—he dubs it the "Health Approach"—that explores when skepticism is healthy and when it is not, or when it is virtuous and when it is vicious.
A skeptical hypothesis is a hypothetical situation which can be used in an argument for skepticism about a particular claim or class of claims. Usually the hypothesis posits the existence of a deceptive power that deceives our senses and undermines the justification of knowledge otherwise accepted as justified. Skeptical hypotheses have received much attention in modern Western philosophy.
The first skeptical hypothesis in modern
Western philosophy appears
* The "
Brain in a vat " hypothesis is cast in scientific terms. It
supposes that one might be a disembodied brain kept alive in a vat,
and fed false sensory signals, by a mad scientist .
* The "
Dream argument " of Descartes and Zhuangzi supposes reality
to be indistinguishable from a dream.
Evil demon is a being "as clever and deceitful as he is
powerful, who has directed his entire effort to misleading me."
* The five minute hypothesis (or omphalos hypothesis or Last
Thursdayism ) suggests that the world was created recently together
with records and traces indicating a greater age.
Brain in a vat
* ^ Williams, Michael (2001). "Chapter 5: Agrippa's Trilemma".
Problems of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction to Epistemology. Oxford
University Press. p. 61. ISBN 978-0192892560 .
* ^ Dundas, Paul; John Hinnels ed. (2002). The Jains. London:
Routledge. ISBN 0-415-26606-8 . CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list
* ^ A B Koller, John M. (July 2000). "
Syādvāda as the
epistemological key to the Jaina middle way metaphysics of
* Beiser, Frederick C. 1987. The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy
from Kant to Fichte. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University
* Breker, Christian. 2011. Einführender Kommentar zu Sextus
Empiricus' "Grundriss der pyrrhonischen Skepsis", Mainz, 2011: electr.
publication, University of Mainz. available online (comment on Sextus
Empiricus’ “Outlines of Pyrrhonism” in German language)
* di Giovanni, George and H. S. Harris, eds. 2000. Between Kant and
Hegel: Texts in the Development of Post-Kantian Idealism. Translated
with Introductions by George di Giovanni and H. S. Harris.
Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing.
* Forster, Michael N. 1989.
* Klein, Peter. "Skepticism". Stanford Encyclopedia of