What Is Skepticism?


With TAM 8, The Amazing Meeting, almost upon us, I will be revisiting some old topics so that new readers can brush up before heading to the Valhalla of Skepticism that is TAM. So here it is, for your education and enjoyment, “What Is Skepticism”.

This post starts a series of discussions about skepticism; what it is, how it is applied in its many and varying aspects and much more. The first thing I’ll be talking about is just a basic idea of what skepticism is and a little bit about it.

Skepticism:

In classical philosophy, skepticism refers to the teachings and the traits of the ‘Skeptikoi’, a school of philosophers of whom it was said that they ‘asserted nothing but only opined.’ (Liddell and Scott) In this sense, philosophical skepticism, or Pyrrhonism, is the philosophical position that one should suspend judgment in investigations.[1]

In religion, skepticism refers to ‘doubt concerning basic religious principles (as immortality, providence, and revelation).’ (Merriam–Webster)

From this I have taken the idea that being skeptical is about examining claims from a scientific point of view. Is there any evidence to back up the claims? Does the evidence stand up under logical scrutiny. Is the evidence anecdotal? (I’ll be explaining more about evidence and what qualifies as evidence in subsequent posts) What qualifies as evidence?

I’m still learning how to be skeptical. Some of the things I have learned to do is look at where the information is coming from. Is the source reliable? I’ll ask myself if the source based in verified fact. Can I find another reliable source to back up the data from the first source.

For instance, if I see on Twitter that someone famous has died, I will go looking for news sources to verify the death. If the first account does not have enough information, I’ll look for second and even third accounts to verify what I have read. Of course I want to be sure that these sources are credible. For example the New York Times is going to have more credibility than Bob’s Daily News.

If someone tells me that there is a new magic bullet weight loss product out there, I won’t automatically dismiss it out of hand. That’s part of being a skeptical thinker. I ask myself  “What does the evidence say?” and I’ll go research it. I’ll look at the product site and search for the ingredients and any studies that may be on the site. I’ll then go through the ingredients and analyze each one.

Yeah I know. It sounds like a royal pain in the asterisk. Keep in mind, this is your body and your health. Using the anecdotal evidence from your friend’s claim as fact does NOT qualify as actual evidence.

It takes time to learn to apply skepticism in daily life. Just remember: Question Everything.

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2 Comments

  1. July 2, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    this post is very usefull thx!

  2. July 3, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Is there any skepticism on the part of consumers regarding the (reduced) impact that renewable energy has on the environment ?/em>. Religious Studies


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