questioning attitude or doubt towards one or more items of putative knowledge or belief
- Meno: How will you look for something when you don't in the least know what it is? How on earth are you going to set up something you don't know as the object of your search? ...
- Socrates: We ought not then to be led astray by the contentious argument you quoted. It would make us lazy, and is music in the ears of weaklings. The other doctrine produces energetic seekers after knowledge.
- Plato, Meno, 80d-81e, W. Guthrie, trans., Collected Dialogs (1961), pp. 363-364
- I shouldn't like to take my oath on the whole story, but one thing I am ready to fight for as long I can, in word and in act—that is, that we shall be better, braver, and more active men if we believe it right to look for what we don't know than if we believe there is no point in looking because what we don't know we can never discover.
- We need to use every argument we can to fight against anyone who does away with knowledge, understanding and intelligence but at the same time asserts anything at all about anything.
Seventeenth century Edit
- The doctrine of those who have denied that certainty could be attained at all, has some agreement with my way of proceeding at the first setting out; but they end in being infinitely separated and opposed. For the holders of that doctrine assert simply that nothing can be known; I also assert that not much can be known in nature by the way which is now in use. But then they go on to destroy the authority of the senses and understanding; whereas I proceed to devise helps for the same.
- Francis Bacon, Aphorisms Concerning the Interpretation of Nature and the Kingdom of Man, § 37
- During the nine subsequent years, I did nothing but roam from one place to another, desirous of being a spectator rather than an actor in the plays exhibited on the theatre of the world; and, as I made it my business in each matter to reflect particularly upon what might fairly be doubted and prove a source of error, I gradually rooted out from my mind all the errors which had hitherto crept into it. Not that in this I imitated the Sceptics who doubt only that they may doubt, and seek nothing beyond uncertainty itself.
- Descartes, Discourse on Method (1637), J. Veitch, trans. (1899), part 3, p. 30
Eighteenth century Edit
- Through a vicious circle of pure reason skepsis itself becomes dogma.
- Johann Georg Hamann, Briefwechsel, ed. Arthur Henkel (1955-1975), vol. V, p. 432
- Even if my philosophy does not extend to discovering anything new, it does nevertheless possess the courage to regard as questionable what has long been thought true.
- Georg Lichtenberg, The Waste Books (1799), R. J. Hollingdale trans. (2000), K12
- Bei den meisten Menschen gründet sich der unglaube in einer Sache auf blinden Glauben in einer anderen.
- With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another.
- Georg Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, L81
- With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another.
Nineteenth century Edit
- They know their profession, but they ignore anything unconnected with their profession. So, to protect their self-esteem, they call everything into question, criticize right and left; seem skeptical but are actually gullible, and drown their minds in interminable discussions. Almost all of them adopt convenient social, literary, or political prejudices so as to dispense with having to form an opinion of their own, just as they place their conscience in the shelter of common law, or of the commercial court. Having left home early in order to become remarkable men, they become mediocre, and crawl along the heights of society. Accordingly, their faces present us with this sour pallor; these false complexions, these dull, lined eyes, these talkative and sensual mouths where the observer recognizes the symptoms of the degeneration of thought and its turning round and round in the dull circle of specialization that kills the generative faculties of the brain, the gift of seeing the big picture, of generalizing and deducing.
- If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it—the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.
- William Kingdon Clifford, The Ethics of Belief (1877)
- In liberated moments we know that a new picture of life and duty is already possible; the elements already exist in many minds around you of a doctrine of life that shall transcend any written record we have. The new statement will comprise the skepticism as well as the faiths of society, and out of unbeliefs a creed shall be formed. For skepticisms are not gratuitous or lawless, but are limitations of the affirmative statement, and the new philosophy must take them in and make affirmations out of them, just as much as it must include the oldest beliefs.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Experience," in Essays: Second Series (1844)
- By the conversion of opinion held on authority into opinion held out of personal conviction, the content of what is held is not necessarily altered, and truth has not thereby taken the place of error. If we stick to a system of opinion and prejudice resting on the authority of others, or upon personal conviction, the one differs from the other merely in the conceit which animates the latter. Scepticism, directed to the whole compass of phenomenal consciousness, on the contrary, makes mind for the first time qualified to test what truth is; since it brings about a despair regarding what are called natural views, thoughts, and opinions, which it is matter of indifference to call personal or belonging to others, and with which the consciousness, that proceeds straight away to criticize and test, is still filled and hampered, thus being, as a matter of fact, incapable of what it wants to undertake.
- This conceit which understands how to belittle every truth, in order to turn back into itself and gloat over its own understanding, which knows how to dissolve every thought and always find the same barren Ego instead of any content—this is a satisfaction which we must leave to itself.
- All skepticism is a kind of idealism. Hence when the skeptic Zeno pursued the study of skepticism by endeavoring existentially to keep himself unaffected by whatever happened, so that when once he had gone out of his way to avoid a mad dog, he shamefacedly admitted that even a skeptical philosopher is also sometimes a man, I find nothing ridiculous in this. There is no contradiction, and the comical always lies in a contradiction.
- Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments (1846), p. 315, as translated by David F. Swenson and Walter Lowrie 1941 Fifth Printing Princeton University Press
- If it were so, as conceited sagacity, proud of not being deceived, thinks, that we should believe nothing that we cannot see with our physical eyes, then we first and foremost ought to give up believing in love. ... We can be deceived by believing what is untrue, but we certainly are also deceived by not believing what is true. ... Which deception is more dangerous?
- I keep having the same experience and keep resisting it every time. I do not want to believe it although it is palpable: the great majority of people lack an intellectual conscience. Indeed, it has often seemed to me as if anyone calling for an intellectual conscience were as lonely in the most densely populated cities as if he were in a desert. Everybody looks at you with strange eyes and goes right on handling his scales, calling this good and that evil. Nobody even blushes when you intimate that their weights are underweight; nor do people feel outraged; they merely laugh at your doubts. I mean: the great majority of people does not consider it contemptible to believe this or that and to live accordingly, without first having given themselves an account of the final and most certain reasons pro and con, and without even troubling themselves about such reasons afterward: the most gifted men and the noblest women still belong to this "great majority." But what is goodheartedness, refinement, or genius to me, when the person who has these virtues tolerates slack feelings in his faith and judgments and when he does not account the desire for certainty as his inmost craving and deepest distress—as that which separates the higher human beings from the lower.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882), Section 2
Twentieth century Edit
- I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I'll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.
- Isaac Asimov (1997) The Roving Mind. Prometheus Books, p. 349
- At the end of a life spent in the pursuit of knowledge Faust has to confess: "I now see that we can nothing know." That is the answer to a sum, it is the outcome of a long experience. But as Kierkegaard observed, it is quite a different thing when a freshman comes up to the university and uses the same sentiment to justify his indolence. As the answer to a sum it is perfectly true, but as the initial data it is a piece of self-deception.
- 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?
- Robert Todd Carroll, The Skeptic's Dictionary, entry on "repressed memory therapy (RMT)"
- We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.
- G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908), p. 56
- Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. … There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil against which all religious authority was aimed.
- G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908), p. 58
- In the act of destroying the idea of Divine authority we have largely destroyed the idea of that human authority by which we do a long-division sum. With a long and sustained tug we have attempted to pull the mitre off pontifical man; and his head has come off with it.
- G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908), pp. 59-60
- The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom. Skepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom.
- There is no harm in doubt and skepticism, for it is through these that new discoveries are made.
- Richard Feynman, in a letter to Armando Garcia J, December 11, 1985
- The function of the lawyer is to preserve a sceptical relativism in a society hell-bent for absolutes. The worse the society, the more law there will be. In Hell there will be nothing but law and due process will be meticulously observed.
- Grant Gilmore, The Ages of American Law (1977), p. 110
- Rabid suspicion has nothing in it of skepticism. The suspicious mind believes more than it doubts. It believes in a formidable and ineradicable evil lurking in every person.
- Eric Hoffer, in The Passionate State Of Mind, and Other Aphorisms (1955), Section 184
- I am too much of a sceptic to deny the possibility of anything — especially as I am now so much occupied with theology — but I don't see my way to your conclusion.
- There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.
- Skepticism is part of reflection … In religion and ethics, in politics, you have to be skeptical of claims that people make. It applies to all parts of life. Your own beliefs and the beliefs of others, and your willingness to examine these, to see if they hold up under scrutiny.
- And I may add that it taught me something about the limitations of the small . . . orthodox scientist who won't recognize as knowledge, or as reality, any information that doesn't fit into the already existent science.
- The skeptic will claim that if there is an external world, the things in it are observable because they exist, and not the other way around: that existence isn’t the same thing as observability. And although we get the idea of dreams and hallucinations from cases where we think we can observe the contrast between our experiences and reality, it certainly seems as if the same idea can be extended to cases where the reality is not observable.
If that is right, it seems to follow that it is not meaningless to think that the world might consist of nothing but the inside of your mind, though neither you nor anyone else could find out that this was true. And if this is not meaningless, but is a possibility you must consider, there seems no way to prove that it is false, without arguing in a circle. So there may be no way out of the cage of your own mind. This is sometimes called the egocentric predicament.
And yet, after all this has been said, I have to admit it is practically impossible to believe seriously that all the things in the world around you might not really exist. Our acceptance of the external world is instinctive and powerful: we cannot just get rid of it by philosophical arguments. Not only do we go on acting as if other people and things exist: we believe that they do, even after we’ve gone through the arguments which appear to show we have no grounds for this belief. (We may have grounds, within the overall system of our beliefs about the world, for more particular beliefs about the existence of particular things: like a mouse in the breadbox, for example. But that is different. It assumes the existence of the external world.)
- Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean? (1987), Chap. 2 : How We Do Know Anything?
- Plus, the only part of my character that I can say I'm really proud of is a skepticism about my own bullshit...
- To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient truths; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.
- Henri Poincaré in: Harold Chapman Brown (1914) "The Work of Henri Poincare" in: The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods. Vol 11. p. 9. p. 225-236
- What really made me angry though twas finding myself agreeing with any of the journal's articles, and I did agree with several. the writers had a keen, if cold intelligence. They did a great deal of seeing through some of the nonsense concerned with the psychic field in general. Of course, they were almost vengefully gleeful when they could legitimately knock down some psychic performance, or show a psychic's predictions to be wrong. Only why couldn't they see their own scientific nonsense? And why couldn't their trained intellects perceive their own emotional vehemence? Because, I thought unhappily, they were scientific witch hunters.
- Jane Roberts, in The God of Jane: A Psychic Manifesto (1981), p. 141
- Many people feel duty-bound to express skepticism as if it were an automatic badge of honor and intellectual superiority. I'd done the same thing in the past, so I could understand the attitude.
- Jane Roberts, in Seth, Dreams & Projections of Consciousness (1986), p. 1
- When one admits that nothing is certain one must, I think, also admit that some things are much more nearly certain than others. It is much more nearly certain that we are assembled here tonight than it is that this or that political party is in the right. Certainly there are degrees of certainty, and one should be very careful to emphasize that fact, because otherwise one is landed in an utter skepticism, and complete skepticism would, of course, be totally barren and completely useless.
- I do not think it possible to get anywhere if we start from scepticism. We must start from a broad acceptance of whatever seems to be knowledge and is not rejected for some specific reason.
- Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development (1959), p. 200
- 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
- Profound skepticism is favorable to conventions, because it doubts that the criticism of conventions is any truer than they are.
- George Santayana, in "On My Friendly Critics", in Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (1922)
- Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness.
- George Santayana, The Works of George Santayana, p. 65
- Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.
- George Santayana, as quoted in Quotations for Our Time (1977) edited by Laurence J. Peter
- 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), p. 3
- Absolute relativism, which is neither more nor less than skepticism, in the most modern sense of the term, is the supreme triumph of the reasoning reason.
- Miguel de Unamuno, in The Tragic Sense of Life (1913) as translated by J. E. Crawford Flitch (1921)
Twenty-first century Edit
- 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!
- If skepticism means anything it means skepticism about the things you WANT to be true. It's easy to be a skeptic about others' views.
- Angus Johnston, twitter (20 May 2017)
- Be curious. A skeptic is a wanderer. If you’re using skepticism as a reason not to read something, not to think about something, not to learn something new, you’re not a good skeptic.
- Timothy Burke, "Helpful Hints for Skeptics" (May 21, 2017)
- Those who say that all historical accounts are ideological constructs (which is one version of the idea that there is really no historical truth) rely on some story which must itself claim historical truth. They show that supposedly "objective" historians have tendentiously told their stories from some particular perspective; they describe, for example, the biasses that have gone into constructing various histories of the United States. Such an account, as a particular piece of history, may very well be true, but truth is a virtue that is embarrassingly unhelpful to a critic who wants not just to unmask past historians of America but to tell us that at the end of the line there is no historical truth. It is remarkable how complacent some "deconstructive" histories are about the status of the history that they deploy themselves.
- Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness (2002)
- A further turn is to be found in some "unmasking" accounts of natural science, which aim to show that its pretensions to deliver the truth are unfounded, because of social forces that control its activities. Unlike the case of history, these do not use truths of the same kind; they do not apply science to the criticism of science. They apply the social sciences, and typically depend on the remarkable assumption that the sociology of knowledge is in a better position to deliver truth about science than science is to deliver truth about the world.
- Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness (2002)