I have been asked several times if I could prepare a presentation for persons to use when they discourse the subject of skepticism at various special interests meetings. I am happy to do so, with two conditions. First, it should be understood that the use of this presentation in no way implies or expresses The Ethical Skeptic’s endorsement of the special interest subject surrounding its presentation; and Second, the full presentation should be given without alteration, and with full credit to The Ethical Skeptic as the author.
Otherwise you are free to use this presentation within a limited rights set under these conditions. Use of the presentation stands as your acceptance of these terms.
In order to avoid an Appeal to Skepticism Fallacy, one must be circumspect under the scientific method as to when one can and cannot make a claim to knowledge as a means to dispose of a challenging observation. In absence of a specific claim by the observer, to dismiss observations out of hand based on Appeal to Skepticism, is pseudoscience.
MiHoDeAL Claim to Knowledge
MiHoDeAL – noun \ məh -hōˈ dē-ül \ : a claim, implication or boast to knowledge, that one holds the credential and has conducted sufficient research into a subject to scientifically disposition that its underpinning observational basis consists solely of Misidentifications, Hoaxes, Delusions, Anecdote and Lies.
The Appeal to Skepticism Fallacy stands as the essential predicate of the MiHoDeAL Claim. The MiHoDeAL Claim is a formal fallacy when used in the errant contexts cited below. While the basis of a MiHoDeAL claim to knowledge is essentially an Appeal to Skepticism, it more specifically most often constitutes a Truzzi Fallacy.
Most of the time, a MiHoDeAL Claim is employed when very little data is possessed and no real research has been conducted on the part of the challenging claimant; instances where the integrity of a specific prima facia counter-claim could be called into question (e.g. claiming that the observer is lying). It is easier and more comforting to doubt and dispose than to actually accrue knowledge. It is in its essence, simultaneously an intellectually lazy boast, a pretense of self promotion to that status equivalent to a scientist (without the qualifications) and finally an implicit or explicit disparagement of a targeted disliked party and/or subject. It is employed as a method to circumvent the conventions of evidence, block the methods of science and to attempt to establish immediate unjustified credibility on the part of an arguer who must win at all costs.
The Appeal to Skepticism Foundation of the MiHoDeAL Fallacy
Appeal to Skepticism Fallacy (of Irrelevance)
2a. The declaration, assumption or implication that a consensus skeptical position on a topic is congruent with the consensus opinion of scientists on that topic.
3. The presumption or contention that taking a denial based or default dubious stance on a set of evidence or topic is somehow indicative of application of the scientific method on one’s part, or constitutes a position of superior intellect, or represents a superior critical or rational position on a topic at hand.
The MiHoDeAL Fallacy
Truzzi Fallacy (of Argument)
5. The presumption that a position of skepticism or plausible conformance on a specific issue affords the skeptical apologist tacit exemption from having to provide authoritative outsider recitation or evidence to support a contended claim or counter-claim.
“Pseudo-Skeptics: Critics who assert negative claims, but who mistakenly call themselves ‘skeptics,’ often act as though they have no burden of proof placed on them at all. A result of this is that many critics seem to feel it is only necessary to present a case for their counter-claims based upon plausibility rather than empirical evidence.” – Marcello Truzzi (Founding Co-chairman of CSICOP)
A MiHoDeAL Claim Does Not Constitute A Skeptical Position
A MiHoDeAL claim is a formal fallacy which is committed by one claiming the informal fallacy of an Appeal to Skepticism. It is an attempt to wrest control of an argument high ground artificially in an effort to leverage by deception or means other than the evidential base. Negations and denials are control mechanisms, and in their truest sense, can be used to control the direction of science; however, when this control is ceded into individuals, it can be abused. The MiHoDeAL claim is the implicit or explicit boast by the claimant that simply through the act of claiming to be a skeptic, I have accessed a wealth of information which allows me to disposition a claim or observation, have assumed a superior argument position, and therefore have deflected your observation – without need to research. This allows for a claim of default victory in undetermined pluralistic arguments, where there legitimately is no suitable basis of authority from which to declare such. The focus by the claimant is typically on winning arguments, not in deriving clarity or value.
In a MiHoDeAL claim context, only one observation exists – yours. Because the MiHoDeAL claimant has disposed of all previous observations of this type in similar fashion, accordingly there exists only one instance of its occurrence to their cultivated perception. This is like Popeye in a cartoon fight. He can whoop 50 guys in a bar, as long as only one of them exists at any given time, and at the times of his choosing.
Example to the Right (I do not believe in Leprechauns, but it is a suitable challenging observation)
(O) Ted observes a Leprechaun strolling through the forest on Saturday.
The three generic reactions:
R¹ ⇒ Wow, I trust Ted, the forest is full of Leprechauns. CLAIM
R² ⇒ Ted is full of crap, and is lying, hallucinating or was hoaxed. CLAIM
R³ ⇒ I withhold disposition and will table this until the instance where it becomes useful. EPOCHE’
Notice that Ted has not made a claim here, only cited an observation. Now if Ted had claimed the forest to be full of a civilization of Leprechauns – then he would not be applying the self circumspection of skepticism, and would indeed be making a claim. The Ethical Skeptic could not accept such a claim, and would only continue to focus on Ted’s observation. So the clarity between what stands as a claim, and what stands as an observation, should not be blurred by neither the observer, nor the recipient of the information.
To dispose of observations as if they were claims, is a method of cultivating ignorance.
To the Ethical Skeptic, in a reasonable scenario, where Ted matches the reasonable profile of a trustworthy person, a choice of doing nothing with the data, is the correct posture. Any other action constitutes a claim to knowledge on his part – something he wishes to avoid. The reason is that, he would hopefully begin to formulate a series of explanatory constructs regarding Ted and the forest, once or if this pattern of observation continues, or more data comes in.
That is what he looks for, nothing else.
Skeptic – One who practices the method of suspended judgment, engages in rational and dispassionate reasoning as exemplified by the scientific method, shows willingness to consider alternative explanations without prejudice based on prior beliefs, and who seeks out evidence and carefully scrutinizes its validity.
This popular lay definition outlining the mindset of persons who identify themselves as skeptics is for the most part valid. The statement “carefully scrutinizes its validity” leaves too much room for equivocation, which justifies just about any oppressive action. Aside from this, with regard to even the valid elements of this definition, there exists a problem in that a sufficiently detrimental portion of those who identify themselves as ‘skeptics’ teach and purposely practice a different version of skepticism. In order to clarify the difference between false and valid skepticism, I have introduced a more rigorous professional definition of the mindset; one more clearly and effectively focused on application of the scientific method. One which I call Ethical Skepticism, expounded upon in the series parts on Ethical Skepticism below:
/ Epoché Vanguards Gnosis / : A means of preparing the mind and data sets in order to accomplish science. The positivist technique of developing a neutral disposition based phylogeny around existing and new data. An aversion to obsessing over disposing of subjects, people and claims; while instead, focusing on accruing field research and underlying data. Defense of the Knowledge Development Process through application of Ockham’s Razor and full scientific methodology. Opposition to all thinking which seeks to surreptitiously establish power through errant method, religion, institution, cabal, oligarchy, intimidation or ignorance – regardless of how ‘critical’ or ‘rational’ it purports to be.
So let’s revise the definition above, in a way that transforms it from a shill, acting in lieu of science – and into real skepticism
Skeptic – One who practices the method of suspended judgment, engages in dispassionate evidence gathering and objective reasoning in preparation to execute the scientific method, shows willingness to consider opposing explanations without prejudice based on prior beliefs, and who pursues goals of clarity and value in their efforts.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 1 – The Octavus Thesauri and What it Means to Be an Ethical Skeptic
Explained how skepticism is a method of preparing the mind and data sets to conduct the Knowledge Development Process. That it has nothing to do with simplest explanations or defending why the right answer is correct. It is a form of disciplined receptive thought; a way of handling new data without resorting to the errant method of deniability or defending pat/institutional answers.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 2 – Ethical Skepticism and How it Relates to Traditional Skepticism, Ockham’s Razor and the Scientific Method
Explained how Ethical Skepticism is a clarity and value oriented assemblage of the best of Philosophical, Empirical and Cartesian Skepticism developed in side a Kuhn Theory of Revolution context, focused on employment of the entire scientific method, not simply the experimental method.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 3 – Ethical Skepticism Detailed Through the Knowledge Development Process
The purpose of skepticism is not to defend the correct answer; rather to defend the integrity of the Knowledge Development Process, and to challenge the imposition of ignorance. The Ethical Skeptic must ever be vigilant for abrogation of the scientific method and surreptitiously promoted religion.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 4 – Ethical Skepticism and How it Relates to Religion and Belief
Explained how Ethical Skepticism’s being defined philosophically as Defense of the Knowledge Development Process, only affords room for definition of belief and religion in one way. A way in which those who pretend to represent science are correctly framed in the light of the same religious mindset as the theist religious minded opponents.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 5 – Ethical Skepticism and The Real Ockham’s Razor
The actual role of Ockham’s Razor, the real scientific principle, is to begin the scientific method, not complete it in one felled swoop. Rational thinking under Ockham’s Razor (ie. Parsimony) is the demonstrated ability to handle plurality of argument with integrity.