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questioning attitude or doubt towards one or more items of putative knowledge or belief
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. ~ Plato
Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect. ~ George Santayana
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. ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another. ~ Georg Lichtenberg

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




  • 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.
    • Plato, Socrates in Meno, 86b, W. Guthrie, trans., Collected Dialogs (1961), p. 371
  • 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.
    • Plato, Sophist, 249e, as translated by Nicholas P. White, in Plato: Complete Works (1997), p. 271

Seventeenth centuryEdit

  • 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 centuryEdit

  • Scepticism is the first step towards truth.
  • Through a vicious circle of pure reason skepsis itself becomes dogma.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Nineteenth centuryEdit

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Soren 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

Twentieth centuryEdit

  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • There is no harm in doubt and skepticism, for it is through these that new discoveries are made.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Thomas Henry Huxley, in a letter to Herbert Spencer (22 March 1886); this is often quoted with a variant spelling as: I am too much of a skeptic to deny the possibility of anything.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 centuryEdit

  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.

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