Happy Skeptics Day, I guess
Skepticism is most often used as a term for people who think we should doubt everything, and that it’s impossible to know anything at all.
By Allen Junek ‘18
Whether you’re familiar with doubting Thomas, the television series “Mythbusters,” or the New Atheist movement, they all share one thing in common: skepticism.
In addition to being a day commonly associated with bad luck, October 13th is marked by some as International Skeptics Day.
Skepticism, as Kenny Easwaran of the Department of Philosophy points out, is most often used as a term for people who think we should doubt everything, and that it’s impossible to know anything at all.
“The reasoning behind this is that knowledge requires certainty, and if there’s any chance of error, then it can’t really count as knowing it,” Easwaran said.
In recent decades, there has been a resurgence of skeptic movements which target what they believe to be society’s less justified beliefs (e.g. religion, superstitions, Eastern medicine, etc.), but as Easwaran is quick to point out, these can’t rightly be called ‘skepticism’ in the full sense of the term.
“These movements use the term skepticism, but they’re not doubting everything,” Easwaran said. “They’re choosing to only doubt those things that aren’t in line with what they consider justified beliefs.”
Forms of skepticism aren’t without their benefits however.
“A minor skepticism directed at any field is the starting point of philosophy,” Easwaran said. “It’s always a call to investigation.”
But if skepticism proceeds too far–if it gets to the point of saying “knowledge is impossible” or it ends up shutting down that area of inquiry–it becomes a barrier to action. So whether you’re skeptical about something as small as the chance of rain this afternoon, or something as large as the meaning of life, do so in a way that leads to discovery.