Skepticism: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Contemporary skepticism (or scepticism) is loosely used to denote any questioning attitude,[1] or some degree of doubt regarding claims that are elsewhere taken for granted.[2]

The word skepticism can characterize a position on a single claim, but in scholastic circles more frequently describes a lasting mind-set. Skepticism is an approach to accepting, rejecting, or suspending judgment on new information that requires the new information to be well supported by argument or evidence.[3] Individuals who proclaim to have a skeptical outlook are frequently called skeptics, often without regard to whether it is philosophical skepticism or empirical skepticism that they profess.[4]

In religion, skepticism refers to 'doubt concerning basic religious principles (such as immortality, providence, and revelation).' (Merriam–Webster)

In classical philosophy, skepticism (or scepticism) is the teachings and the traits of the 'Skeptikoi', a school of philosophers of whom it was said that they 'asserted nothing but only opined.' (Liddell and Scott) In this sense, philosophical skepticism, or Pyrrhonism, is the philosophical position that one should suspend judgment in investigations.[5]



In ordinary usage, skepticism or scepticism (Greek: 'σκέπτομαι' skeptomai, to look about, to consider; see also spelling differences) refers to:

  • (a) an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object;
  • (b) the doctrine that true knowledge or certainty in a particular area is impossible; or
  • (c) the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism that is characteristic of skeptics (Merriam–Webster).

In philosophy, skepticism refers more specifically to any one of several propositions. These include propositions about:

  • (a) an inquiry,
  • (b) a method of obtaining knowledge through systematic doubt and continual testing,
  • (c) the arbitrariness, relativity, or subjectivity of moral values,
  • (d) the limitations of knowledge,
  • (e) a method of intellectual caution and suspended judgment.

Scientific skepticism

A scientific (or empirical) skeptic is one who questions the reliability of certain kinds of claims by subjecting them to a systematic investigation.[6] The scientific method details the specific process by which this investigation of reality is conducted. Considering the rigor of the scientific method, science itself may simply be thought of as an organized form of skepticism. This does not mean that the scientific skeptic is necessarily a scientist who conducts live experiments (though this may be the case), but that the skeptic generally accepts claims that are in his/her view likely to be true based on testable hypotheses and critical thinking.

Common topics that scientifically-skeptical literature questions include health claims surrounding certain foods, procedures, and medicines, such as homeopathy, Reiki, Thought Field Therapy (TFT), vertebral subluxations; the plausibility and existence of supernatural entities (such as ghosts, poltergeists, angels, and gods as well as the existence of ESP/telekinesis, psychic powers, and telepathy, and thus the credibility of parapsychology); topics in cryptozoology, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, alien visitations, UFOs, crop circles, astrology, repressed memories, creationism/intelligent design, dowsing, conspiracy theories, and other claims the skeptic sees as unlikely to be true on scientific grounds.[7]

Empirical or scientific skeptics do not profess philosophical skepticism. Whereas a philosophical skeptic may deny the very existence of knowledge, an empirical skeptic merely seeks likely proof before accepting that knowledge.

Scientific skepticism is itself sometimes criticized on this ground. The term pseudoskepticism has found occasional use in controversial fields where opposition from scientific skeptics is strong. For example, in 1994, Susan Blackmore, a parapsychologist who became more skeptical and eventually became a csicop fellow in 1991, described what she termed the "worst kind of pseudoskepticism":

"There are some members of the skeptics’ groups who clearly believe they know the right answer prior to inquiry. They appear not to be interested in weighing alternatives, investigating strange claims, or trying out psychic experiences or altered states for themselves (heaven forbid!), but only in promoting their own particular belief structure and cohesion..."[8]

Religious skepticism

Religious skepticism is skepticism regarding faith-based claims. Religious skeptics may focus on the core tenets of religions, such as the existence of divine beings or reports of earthly miracles. A religious skeptic is not necessarily an atheist or agnostic.

Philosophical skepticism

In philosophical skepticism, pyrrhonism is a position that refrains from making truth claims. A philosophical skeptic does not claim that truth is impossible (which would be a truth claim). The label is commonly used to describe other philosophies which appear similar to philosophical skepticism, such as academic skepticism, an ancient variant of Platonism that claimed knowledge of truth was impossible. Empiricism is a closely related, but not identical, position to philosophical skepticism. Empiricists see empiricism as a pragmatic compromise between philosophical skepticism and nomothetic science; philosophical skepticism is in turn sometimes referred to as "radical empiricism."

Philosophical skepticism originated in ancient Greek philosophy.[9] The Greek Sophists of the 5th century BC were for the most part skeptics. Pyrrhonism was a school of skepticism founded by Aenesidemus in the first century BC and recorded by Sextus Empiricus in the late 2nd century or early 3rd century AD. One of its first proponents was Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360-275 B.C.), who traveled and studied as far as India and propounded the adoption of "practical" skepticism. Subsequently, in the "New Academy" Arcesilaus (c. 315-241 B.C.) and Carneades (c. 213-129 B.C.) developed more theoretical perspectives, by which conceptions of absolute truth and falsity were refuted as uncertain. Carneades criticized the views of the Dogmatists, especially supporters of Stoicism, asserting that absolute certainty of knowledge is impossible. Sextus Empiricus (c. A.D. 200), the main authority for Greek skepticism, developed the position further, incorporating aspects of empiricism into the basis for asserting knowledge.

Greek skeptics criticized the Stoics, accusing them of dogmatism. For the skeptics, the logical mode of argument was untenable, as it relied on propositions which could not be said to be either true or false without relying on further propositions. This was the regress argument, whereby every proposition must rely on other propositions in order to maintain its validity (see the five tropes of Agrippa the Sceptic). In addition, the skeptics argued that two propositions could not rely on each other, as this would create a circular argument (as p implies q and q implies p). For the skeptics, such logic was thus an inadequate measure of truth and could create as many problems as it claimed to have solved. Truth was not, however, necessarily unobtainable, but rather an idea which did not yet exist in a pure form. Although skepticism was accused of denying the possibility of truth, in fact it appears to have mainly been a critical school which merely claimed that logicians had not discovered truth.

In Islamic philosophy, skepticism was established by Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), known in the West as "Algazel", as part of the orthodox Ash'ari school of Islamic theology. It has been argued that René Descartes' ideas from Discourse on the Method may have been influenced by the work of Al-Ghazali, whose method of skepticism shares many similarities with Descartes' method.[10]

René Descartes is credited for developing a global skepticism as a thought experiment in his attempt to find absolute certainty on which to base the foundation of his philosophy. David Hume has also been described as a global skeptic. However, Descartes was not ostensively a skeptic and developed his theory of an absolute certainty to disprove other skeptics who argued that there is no certainty.

False claims of skepticism

Some advocates of discredited intellectual positions such as AIDS denial and Holocaust denial engage in pseudoskeptical behavior when they characterize themselves as "skeptics" despite cherry picking evidence that conforms to a pre-existing belief.[11] According to Richard Wilson, who highlights the phenomenon in his book Don't Get Fooled Again (2008), the characteristic feature of false skepticism is that it "centres not on an impartial search for the truth, but on the defence of a preconceived ideological position".

See also

Literary skeptics




  1. ^ 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).
  2. ^ "Philosophical views are typically classed as skeptical when they involve advancing some degree of doubt regarding claims that are elsewhere taken for granted."
  3. ^ "Philosophical skepticism should be distinguished from ordinary skepticism, where doubts are raised against certain beliefs or types of beliefs because the evidence for the particular belief or type of belief is weak or lacking..."
  4. ^ "...the two most influential forms of skepticism have, arguably, been the radical epistemological skepticism of the classical Pyrrhonian skeptics and the Cartesian form of radical epistemological skepticism that Descartes considers in..."
  5. ^ Sextus Empiricus, Outlines Of Pyrrhonism, Translated by R.G. Bury, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933, p. 21
  6. ^ What is skepticism?
  7. ^ Martin Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science Dover, 1957; ISBN 0-486-20394-8
  8. ^ JE Kennedy, "The Capricious, Actively Evasive, Unsustainable Nature of Psi: A Summary and Hypotheses", The Journal of Parapsychology, Volume 67, pp. 53–74, 2003. See Note 1 page 64 quoting Blackmore, S. J. (1994). Women skeptics. In L. Coly & R. White (Eds.), Women and parapsychology (pp. 234–236). New York: Parapsychology Foundation.
  9. ^ Scepticism - History of Scepticism
  10. ^ Najm, Sami M. (July-October 1966), "The Place and Function of Doubt in the Philosophies of Descartes and Al-Ghazali", Philosophy East and West 16 (3-4): 133–41, doi:10.2307/1397536  
  11. ^ Richard Wilson, Against the Evidence, New Statesman, 18 September 2008


  • A Greek-English Lexicon, Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones, with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie, Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK, 1940. Online.
  • Richard Hönigswald, Die Skepsis in Philosophie und Wissenschaft, 1914, new edition (ed. and introduction by Christian Benne and Thomas Schirren), Göttingen: Edition Ruprecht, 2008, ISBN 978-7675-3056-0
  • Keeton, Morris T., "skepticism", pp. 277–278 in Dagobert D. Runes (ed.), Dictionary of Philosophy, Littlefield, Adams, and Company, Totowa, NJ, 1962.
  • Runes, D.D. (ed.), Dictionary of Philosophy, Littlefield, Adams, and Company, Totowa, NJ, 1962.
  • Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged, W.A. Neilson, T.A. Knott, P.W. Carhart (eds.), G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, MA, 1950.
  • Butchvarov, Panayot, Skepticism About the External World (Oxford University Press, 1998).
  • Daniels, M.D., D.; Price, PhD, V. (2000), The Essential Enneagram, New York: HarperCollins  

Further reading

  • Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, R.G. Bury (trans.), Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY, 1990.
  • Richard Wilson, Don't Get Fooled Again - The skeptic's guide to life, Icon Books, London, 2008. ISBN 978-184831014-8

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Skepticism is a method of intellectual caution, suspended judgment, and pursuing knowledge through systematic doubt and continual testing.


  • Scepticism is the first step towards truth.
  • History is replete with examples of what happens when any group of authorities do not have to answer to empirical evidence but are free to define truth as they see fit. None of the examples has a happy ending. Why should it be otherwise with therapy?
  • A danger sign of the lapse from true skepticism into dogmatism is an inability to respect those who disagree.
  • THE SKEPTIC'S HOROSCOPE for Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, and Sagittarius (Jan 1, 2007 – Dec 31, 2007):
    The coming year is likely to present challenges; these trials are when your true character will show. Trusted friends can provide assistance in particularly pressing situations. Make use of the skills you have to compensate for ones you lack. Your reputation in the future depends on your honesty and integrity this year. Monetary investments will prove risky; inform yourself as much as possible. On the positive side, your chances of winning the lottery have never been greater!
  • It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to ideas. If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now and then, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress. On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish useful ideas from the worthless ones.
    • Carl Sagan, in "The Burden of Skepticism" (1987)
  • You can get into a habit of thought in which you enjoy making fun of all those other people who don't see things as clearly as you do. We have to guard carefully against it.
  • The chief deficiency I see in the skeptical movement is its polarization: Us vs. Them — the sense that we have a monopoly on the truth; that those other people who believe in all these stupid doctrines are morons; that if you're sensible, you'll listen to us; and if not, to hell with you. This is nonconstructive. It does not get our message across. It condemns us to permanent minority status.
    • Carl Sagan, in The Demon-Haunted World : Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996), p. 300
  • In science, the burden of proof falls upon the claimant; and the more extraordinary a claim, the heavier is the burden of proof demanded. The true skeptic takes an agnostic position, one that says the claim is not proved rather than disproved. He asserts that the claimant has not borne the burden of proof and that science must continue to build its cognitive map of reality without incorporating the extraordinary claim as a new "fact." Since the true skeptic does not assert a claim, he has no burden to prove anything. He just goes on using the established theories of "conventional science" as usual. But if a critic asserts that there is evidence for disproof, that he has a negative hypothesis — saying, for instance, that a seeming psi result was actually due to an artifact — he is making a claim and therefore also has to bear a burden of proof.
    • Marcello Truzzi, "On Pseudo-Skepticism" in Zetetic Scholar 12/13 (1987), pp3-4,

External links


Wikipedia has an article about:
It has been suggested that New England Skeptical Society be merged into this article or section. (Discuss)
Look up skepticism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary

Simple English

Skepticism or scepticism (Greek skeptomai: to consider, to examine) refers to any view involving doubt.

  • 1. An attitude of doubt as to whether something exists.
  • 2. A doubt as to whether something can be known for certain.
  • 3. A doubt as to whether we are correct in arguing a certain way.
  • 4. The practical method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt or criticism is characteristic of skeptics.


The roots of skepticism

Skepticism has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy.[1][2][3] The Greek Sophists of the 5th century BC, such as Protagoras of Abdera (480–411 BC), were for the most part skeptics. Gorgias (485–380 BC) said that "Nothing exists; if anything does exist, it cannot be known; if anything exists and can be known, it cannot be communicated". In the 4th century BC Pyrrho of Elis (c360–275 BC), who travelled and studied as far as India, adopted practical skepticism. Carneades (c213–129 BC) denied absolute truth and falsity. He criticized the Dogmatists, especially supporters of Stoicism, asserting that absolute certainty of knowledge is impossible. Sextus Empiricus (c200 AD), the main authority for Greek skepticism, incorporated empiricism into the basis for asserting knowledge.

The nub of the argument is the proposition that unless we know something for certain, then we cannot know anything at all. The interest lies in the way great philosophers have sought to counter this problem. Some, like Descartes, retreat into the mind: I think, therefore I am. Others, such as the British empiricists John Locke and David Hume,[4] would rely on our sense perception. Certain kinds of knowledge may be especially vulnerable to skepticism. For example, an agnostic believes that knowledge of supernatural things cannot be attained.

Skepticism is widely used as a method for research in science, and (with variations) in modern legal procedure. Here doubt, suspending judgement, methodical investigation, testing and discussion precede any statement of facts. Sometimes the process takes years before consensus is reached. This systematic approach is called methodological skepticism. It is probably the most important legacy of the skeptics.


Literary skeptics

  • Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's Dictionary
  • Ignacy Krasicki: Fables and Parables
  • Bolesław Prus: Pharaoh
  • Voltaire: Candide
  • Montaigne: Essays
  • Herman Melville: Moby-Dick


  • Center for Inquiry
  • Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
  • The Skeptics Society
  • James Randi Educational Foundation
  • Rationalist International
  • The New England Skeptical Society
  • Australian Skeptics


Other websites

Simple English Wiktionary has the word meaning for:


  1. Long A.A. 1974. Hellenistic philosophy.
  2. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [1]
  3. Scepticism - History of Scepticism
  4. Hume D. 1739 Treatise, and 1748. Enquiry into human understanding.
  • See also Klein P. 2002. “Skepticism” in The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology. P. Moser (ed) Oxford University Press. pp336–361

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address