What is Skepticism? Can We Know Anything?



Gretchen, over a Skeptic Review, posted an excellent piece, appropriately titled, What Is Skepticism? It a great introduction that details not only the general definition of skepticism, but also breaks out the different kinds of skepticism. I don’t think that the state of skepticism is necessarily imperiled though, even if there are those that have a certain view of those defined that way. I may be wrong, but I have never known anyone, a skeptic, that goes around introducing themselves that way. As I mentioned in my introductory piece, we are all skeptical at one level or another. Where I think I may agree with those that criticize us, is that there may be a contingent of people claiming to be skeptics, that don’t actually exemplify that status.

Even those of us, self-proclaimed skeptics,  are sometimes guilty of the logical fallacy of confirmation bias. Everyone enjoys an opportunity to display that yes, some belief held for a long period of time, without any direct confirmation, is finally placed to rest. We can think that we were right all along. But should we? I often caution against those stories we read or hear about concerning a study that indicates something is true or not. It’s not that I think studies are unreliable, just that a determination is made upon a single study. The media especially will rave over it, notably because it fits within a narrative that their viewers or readers are willing to accept without further evidence.

How do we trust anything? Should we be skeptical concerning everything we read or hear? Well, no, but we should keep an open mind simply because even those propositions that have multiple studies that may affirm them, may or may not be accurate. That’s quite a statement isn’t it? Think about corrupt data sets utilized. I’m not saying the data were intentionally corrupted, but that the set itself may not actually reflect whatever  the research intended. Those that then use the same processes to collect similar data to confirm a conclusion, will  necessarily be suspect as well.

That’s why I believe it’s important for a skeptic to keep an open mind. What we may believe as true one day, we discover that, under further scrutiny, may not be what we initially believed. Just because we may believe that an argument is settled, doesn’t mean that there is further research ongoing that may add additional confirmation, or may show the opposite. I think about, as someone with a degree in Geology, the controversy, early on, concerning the theory of Plate Tectonics. That’s the idea that our continents are on the move, and always have been, When first proposed, in the 1940’s, it was roundly criticized by the academy because every study to date showed that in fact, continents did not move in the way proposed. Twenty or so years later, after considerable more research, that idea was proven to be correct. Times had changed, technology had improved, those scientists performing the research could show that indeed, our continents move. Today, no one, even the youngest pupil, believes otherwise.

That’s why an open mind is required, at least in my opinion, in skepticism. We increase our knowledge in those areas of skepticism Gretchen outlined all the time. What we may have thought was unassailable today, may not be next week.


2 thoughts on “What is Skepticism? Can We Know Anything?

  1. Sad to say, there are people of various ages who do not accept that islands and continents do anything more that float on the water. Or perhaps they just can’t comprehend that those things go all the way down. I don’t know, but I know a couple.

    “Believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear.” That’s an old one.


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