Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

What it means to be a Skeptic

Posted in Rodibidably by Rodibidably on February 20, 2009

[Originally posted at: Rodibidably]

I meant to post this on the 18th, in honor of Yoko Ono’s birthday, but I was unable to finish the post until now, so I apologize for being late (sorry Yoko).

To get us started on this short (well, we’ll see how short it ends up, I tend to ramble at times) journey, I’d like to first define what I mean by Skeptic.

Many people have an image in their head of an older white male (usually with a beard) who sits in an arm chair and dismisses anything that goes against their preconceived notions. While this image may or may not be of a “skeptic”, it seems to be the general understanding in society today. But as with many ideas held by the general public, it’s not really an accurate picture of what it means to be a skeptic.

So let’s define skeptic, with a bit of help from Wikipedia:

In ordinary usage, skepticism or scepticism 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 knowledge in a particular area is uncertain; 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.

The word skepticism can characterize a position on a single claim, but in scholastic circles more frequently describes a lasting mind-set and an approach to accepting or rejecting new information. 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.

These definitions are nice, and quite accurate, but they seem a bit unwieldy to me, let’s keep looking for a simple one line type of description if we can:

A scientific (or empirical) skeptic is one who questions the reliability of certain kinds of claims by subjecting them to a systematic investigation.

In my view if you replace the phrase “certain kinds of claims” with “virtually all claims“, you’d have what I consider a solid definition of what I mean when I use the term Skeptic.

As a skeptic myself (or at least somebody who attempts to be skeptical in their life) there are a number of philosophies or ideals I attempt to use to guide myself through life. Some of these are well known skeptical quotes or ideas, while some are more vague ideas.

[Read the rest of this post at: Rodibidably]


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