Let's hear it for scepticism

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I've lost count of the number of times that I've had to argue that scepticism is a positive process.  In part this is clearly because some people conflate scepticism and cynicism which they regard as negativity whereas it is also a positive phenomenon, albeit in a different way to scepticism.  It's also, for some, because if you're sceptical about something which other people think is absolutely fine, then you're seen as agin it and your motives are questioned.  Sometimes, however, the sceptic just wants to make things a bit clearer, or better, even.

We've David Hume to thank for an emphasis on scepticism as Freddie Sayers pointed out in a column for Unherd.  It begins:

"For much of human history, doubt was considered a personal vice.  Status and advancement was generally conferred on believers and cheerleaders for the prevailing orthodoxy.  Questioning the status quo was regarded as sedition and, as a result, discussions of “doubt” were confined to pedantic philosophers determined to discover whether anything in the world could really be known.  It was not really until David Hume, writing during the Scottish Enlightenment, that an attempt was made to reconcile Scepticism with the real world.  Frustrated at the “insipid raillery” of those who claimed mankind could know nothing, he dismissed their obscure thought experiments as “mere Philosophical Amusement”, and instead chose to reclaim Scepticism as a critical mindset.  To put it simply, for Hume it was important to be “a philosopher; but, amidst all of your philosophy, be still a man”."

Hume wrote in his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, to be sceptical is “to begin with clear and self-evident principles, to advance by timorous and sure steps, to review frequently our conclusions, and examine accurately all their consequences”.

I sometimes felt that, as an academic researcher, I was paid to be sceptical.  It was certainly a necessary position to take as there is no neutrality here with the only alternative option being credulity.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • YES!! It now seems that to even to hint at being skeptical in public forums is to risk being chastised, and worse, ranked as a conspiracist for simply questioning hierarchical dogmas.