Skepticism, as philosophy, is the complement of sound science method, not the privilege sword of a few pretenders culling and provisionally enforcing conclusions in lieu of science. True skepticism is hungry. It is foolish. Skepticism is the hallmark discipline of those who possess the grace, integrity and acumen requisite in the wielding of great ideas.
When philosophers speak of skepticism standing as the foundation of scientific reason, they are not referring to the popular fad of spewing methodical cynicism and prejudicial doubt toward any idea one’s club has mandated should be disdained. Neither are they suggesting an endorsement of entity-stacked risky provisional knowledge, framed within a miasma of social derision. These false forms of skepticism serve to do nothing but cultivate ignorance. Such are the illegitimate practices on the part of those who today pose as if communicating on behalf of science. Genuine skepticism opposes this agency, while itself bearing no agenda ax to grind, save for the idempotent ethic of defending the knowledge development process. Philosophy, despite standing as the foundation of science, cannot be abused to supplant nor speak in lieu of science – as that is neither its role nor capability. Skepticism therefore, as philosophy, is equally bound by this construct.
A military trainee is never considered a fully skilled soldier until he first knows how not to abuse, and most importantly when he should not employ, his weapon of choice. Never place a group of boot combatants, newly trained upon their weapons, into a single foggy theater with a lone enemy in their midst. Everyone will die in one sudden conflagration of friendly fire. Such is the landscape of social discourse around science which is precipitated by today’s fad skepticism. In similar critical nature, until one understands how a philosophical definition or principle can be manipulated for ill intent, one has not really learned it. This is a core precept of ethical skepticism, an applied ability to spot the condition wherein tenets of skepticism are abused to bypass scientific rigor for the purpose of cultivating ignorance. Skepticism is the complement of sound science method and not its substitute. It should never function as the privilege sword of a few pretenders deriding targeted people and subjects in promotion of their preferred conclusions, under a guise of science or critical thinking. Skepticism is the hallmark discipline of those who possess the grace, integrity and acumen requisite in the wielding of great ideas.
The core philosophical praxis of ethical skepticism is not ‘doubt’. In particular, that doubt which constitutes merely a masquerade, belying what is in essence methodical cynicism – selectively doubting what one does not like and forgetting all about doubt when a favored idea is broached. Instead ethical skepticism is founded upon this essential principle of deontological doubt, a principle borrowed from the Pyrrhonist school of philosophy, called epoché.
/philosophy : skepticism : deontological doubt/ : (Gr. ἐποχή, “suspension” or “silence”) – an active suspension of disposition. The suspended state of judgement exercised by a disciplined and objective mind, in preparation to conduct research. A state of neutrality which eschews the exercise of religious, biased rational or critical, risky provisional and dogmatic dispositions when encountering new observations, ideas and data. In contrast with a wallow in passive neutrality or apathy, epoché is a form of active investigation based upon a discipline of impartiality. A desire to find the answer, tempered by the wisdom that answers do not come as easily as most people believe.
True epoché asks in circumspection, ‘If I was wrong, would I even know it?’
There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.
~ English Philosopher, Herbert Spencer
EVG – epoché vanguards gnosis – means that disciplined suspension of judgement, is the first practice on the path to establishing wisdom. I chose Usir (Osiris) as the iconic avatar for ethical skepticism because he is known as the Lord of Silence. Knowing when to draw inference, and when to remain silent (epoché) – is the key to fortress wisdom. Hence the EVG tag line of ethical skepticism. Deontological doubt is founded upon ontological silence.
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
Only describe, don’t explain.
Epoché is the step of first being skeptical of self, before addressing challenging or new phenomena. Underpinned by both examination of the disciplines of true knowledge development (epignosis) and the repository of vetted and accepted knowledge (gnosis). If someone relates a challenging observation to you, you suspend disposition (remain silent), and catalog it. If you toss it out based upon a fallacy, trivial flaw, improbability, fear, disdain, doubt, or terminal disinterest – then you are a cynic, not a skeptic.
Where one is corrupt in their skepticism, there also will they be corrupt in their heart.
Of course the ethics (practice methods or praxis) of Ethical Skepticism are not really new. However to most people, because of the false form of skepticism (cynical doubt) thrust upon them daily by agenda driven forces, Ethical Skepticism does appear to constitute novel and heretical thinking. An ethical skeptic examines the practice methods of those purporting to deliver a set of information which is being claimed as false, to discern their skill in applying epoché in such a process. This because, the modern pop/lay definitions outlining the mindset of persons who identify themselves as skeptics often include some version of the task of ‘carefully scrutinizing claim validity,’ obfuscating, complicating, ‘doubting’ and ‘demanding proof’.
What distinguishes a good skeptic is not what one knows (critical thinking). Rather a good skeptic realizes both how risky or plenary that knowledge is, and what one should do when one does not know; or encounters novel information or new ideas.
Scepter means in Latin, to ‘palm’, hold, touch or examine – one who focuses upon methods and fruits
Cynic means in Latin, ‘dogged’, doglike in denial, doubting, scoffing – one who focuses on identity, correctness and the good and bad people
The skeptic neither cynically doubts nor believes with certainty, but rather goes there and verifies – understanding that conclusions do not resolve as easily as most think.
Accordingly, I have modified the famous quip regarding doubt, by Bertrand Russel, to reflect the differentiating elements of ethical skepticism:
The whole problem with the world is that there exists only a small set of things about which one need be certain. Fools and fanatics think that everything demands certainty or doubt.
This apothegm of course does not imply irrelevance regarding the enormous arrays of inquiry which need to be resolved by mankind. It simply means that, at any given moment, what must be saliently deliberated represents only a thin, critical-path, and incremental sliver of that domain – and not all of it at once. You will notice in contrast, that with invalid skepticism there is not one subject upon which they have not derived a conclusion or ‘doubted’. Once the subject has been targeted/addressed everything and anything inside it is either now bunk or part of an accepted doctrine – there is no in-between. A complete absence of epoché. Those who perform their twisted skepticism in such manner, especially and most often in lieu of science, hunger for premature conclusive compliance and exploit convenient ambiguity in logic, locution and method; a tacit permission which justifies just about any oppressive action of denial one chooses. It affords any jerk, know-it-all or activist the ability to promote their religious or political ideas under the luxury of cozenage as a scientist – all through the simple act of declaring themselves to be a skeptic. This form of false skepticism revolves around a disinforming practice set implying that you personally must derive a conclusion on any and every mystery in the here and now, with only the information you have been given. This is a pressure sales pitch – usually involving identifying the bad people. This is dishonesty. This is pseudoscience. This serves to cultivate ignorance and suffering. It is skepticism derived for the sole sake of being identified as a skeptic. It is a pretense, purposed for the power to force scientist and citizen alike, to comply.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
~ Steven Jobs’ commencement speech to Stanford University 2005 graduating class
Ethical Skepticism, in contrast with the poseur habits of appeal to authority masquerade and insistence on abductive/panductive inference, focuses instead on application of the scientific method inside a relentless curiosity, to produce consequentialist outcomes of
- clarity – agenda free and critical path cataloged essential schema, regardless of whether or not the insights therein are liked or disliked, probable or improbable, favored or disfavored,
- value – as measured by three goals: love, understanding and the alleviation of suffering,
- discipline – consistency in the integrity of both the methods of developing and the handling of information, principles and critical path ideas, and
- risk mitigation – as measured by the ethical discernment of process design and outcome monitoring, which serve to mitigate method failure and process calamity.
Therefore, ethical skepticism hinges upon a different understanding of what constitutes critical thinking. It pertains little to what you currently know, nor pressure you receive from your peers to conform to ‘rationality‘. It does not seek to circumvent science and compulsively enforce compliant answers from barstools, parents’ basements and university cubicles. It can be regarded as a thought standard more focused upon the above set of goals. The genuine critical thinker does not rely upon current provisional knowledge, does not conform to peer pressure – however does stand in the gap for those who are at risk of being harmed. Critical thinking under ethical skepticism has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘Stanovich goal enabling behaviors and cognitive dispositions’.1 As such pretense constitutes nothing but an inevitable ergodicity of compliance; Leonard Shapiro’s “uniform pattern of public utterances in which the first trace of unorthodox thought reveals itself as a jarring dissonance.”
Skepticism is unrelenting, disciplined, incremental, and critical path foolishness.
It is the eye of neutrality, inside the mercenary tempest of curious passion.
I did not know. I went and looked. Everything else was vanity.
Critical Path Elements of Ethical Skepticism
This broach of the basis of philosophy which underpins valid skepticism, serves to introduce a defining limitation to this type of thinking, which few skeptics grasp or are able to apply. A key principle which distinguishes people into three groupings, those who understand and apply the principle in their work, those who understand and do not care, and finally those who do not understand and fall victim to fake skepticism. That principle is called the Demarcation of Skepticism:
Demarcation of Skepticism
Once plurality is necessary under Ockham’s Razor, it cannot be dismissed by means of skepticism alone.
Demarcation of Ethics
Ethics is a call back to a praxis, a time-tested standard of practice, and as such does not constitute a form of personal claim to virtue. A key ethic of philosophy is to possess an aversion to adorning one’s self in virtue, even and especially those virtue costumes of science, fallacy-mongering, morality and critical thinking. A person who adheres to ethics can see through a virtue poseur very quickly.
An ethical scientist will not dismiss a subject from an armchair position, once the necessity of examining more than one alternative has been established. Skepticism is a practice discipline therefore of the ethical scientist. However, being skeptical neither serves to make one a scientist, nor equal to a scientist in credibility and expertise. Moreover, such appropriated identity, lacking in circumspection can serve to mislead one into obsessing about skepticism itself; to stand in lieu of actual understanding or qualification history. This is the cause of much extremism in our society today, spun falsely in the name of science. Therefore, ethical skepticism can be viewed as a personal practice set which seeks to avoid the pitfalls of such appropriated identity, portrayed inside application variants of Neuhaus’ and Goodhart’s Laws:
/philosophy : skepticism : fallacy/ : where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.
Therefore, by this principle, we see how skepticism, as a goal in and of itself will always escalate to extremism. Because anything which can be encompassed inside a halo of ‘doubt’ will eventually be ‘debunked’ by default, whether or not research is done inside the subject at all. All it takes is a bit of club self-delusion and a little shove of doubt. This is encompassed then as an outcome of Goodhart’s Law:
Goodhart’s Law (of Skepticism)
/philosophy : skepticism : fallacy/ : when skepticism itself becomes the goal, it ceases to be skepticism.
“Whenever you have someone who is a professional skeptic, you should be suspicious of them” ~ Deepak Chopra
Both of these principles become favorable leverage angles for agency seeking to endact Bernaysian social engineering. The social skeptics they select and groom to enforce this stratagem are smart enough to support the agenda, but not smart enough to spot the methods of counter-intelligence and the role they play therein. Nassim Taleb’s ‘Intellectual Yet Idiot‘ class of smartest people in the room. Ethical skepticism challenges those who fall prey to such forms of fallacy and crooked thinking. The manipulation of opponents, semantics, data, method, science, argument, assumption, groups, authorities and perception of self on the part of agenda carrying agents. These agents enforce a fiat knowledge agenda through intimidation, defamation, ridicule, surreptitious malevolent activity, social control, ethnic disdain, tortious interference, business tampering, murder, targeting of ideas, observations or persons, media domination, propaganda, mafia and elite corporate power. This all oriented towards the desired set of social goals enacted under a particular cultivated ignorance. Part of our task as ethical skeptics unfortunately, is to highlight the methods of the poseur, and dispel the resulting cultivated ignorance. Despite its clarion praxis, ethical skepticism is in no way a means for personal virtue signaling – standing in fact as its opposite.
The duties of ethical skepticism therefore, and indeed ethical science (per Einstein), revolve around the protection and freedom of truth, as an outcome of neutral inquiry, and not as an exercise in abductive/panductive inference, pretentious apathy nor shallow inductive appeal to authority. Accordingly, we next examine the principal duties incumbent inside ethical skepticism.
The Duty of Science
The right to search for the truth is commensurate also with a duty that one must not conceal any part of what one finds to be true, nor obfuscate what one fears could possibly be true.
The First Duty of Ethical Skepticism
The First Duty of Ethical Skepticism is to oppose agency. In the same way that science is a method, even so ignorance is also a method. But the scope of cultivated ignorance extends further than that of science itself, in that it is also a method of conditioning and contagion. It propagates through exploiting all manner of cunning and deceit. As an ethical skeptic, your first duty of philosophical acumen is not to execute the scientific method per se, which is straightforward in comparison. You are not here to promulgate conclusions, as that is the habit of your foe. Your ethical acumen is necessary rather, in spotting the clever masquerade of science and knowledge. Ethical Skepticism’s first duty therefore resides not solely in the examination of ‘extraordinary claims’, but also in examining those claims which serve to harm through the clever masquerade, hidden in plain sight, as if constituting ordinary ‘settled science’.
“The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best—and therefore never scrutinize or question.” ~Steven Jay Gould
The ethical skeptic is therefore armed with a deep philosophical understanding of knowledge, human nature and discernment, which is embodied inside The Riddle of Skepticism:
The Riddle of Skepticism
Through claiming skepticism, one has struck the tar baby and can no longer plead denial of their action in contending philosophy. With the exception of man’s inalienable natural rights, the discipline of philosophy, even an examination as to how we go about developing knowledge, cannot be employed as a means to bypass science and pretend to act in its place, as this is not the purpose of philosophy. Skepticism, the philosophy in defense of the knowledge development process (science), is likewise bound by this construct.
As generals are experts at tactics of war and banks expert in the transfer and exchange of money, neither bears the right however to dictate the conduct of their citizens, nor who should be conquered nor what entities are to do with their capital. In similar analogue, an expert inside a subject of science cannot also presume to dictate to at-risk stakeholders what they must enact with regard to that science, nor tamper with the ramifications of its disposition inside the public trust. As a skeptic therefore, I cannot tell science how to do its job, but I can assert my rights as its at-risk stakeholder – even on matters which are metaphysical in nature. Science is the property of us all and it is the job of skepticism to defend that inalienable right.
The question one must ask them self, before venturing into this hall of mirrors called skepticism is not, whether or not I can establish a likelihood of being right or wrong on a matter. The question in the mind of the ethical skeptic should be “If I were wrong, would I even know it?” and “If I were wrong, would I be contributing to harm?” This is the focus of the philosophy of skepticism and not this indolent business of leveraging one’s current limited knowledge into a pretense of doubting or ‘evaluating claims’ demanded upon a silver platter. Such self deception constitutes merely cynicism and a pretense of representing science. Therefore, defending the integrity of the knowledge development process is betrayed once one starts tendering conclusions in lieu of it.
Science is the process of knowledge development and the body of accepted knowledge such process serves to precipitate. Pseudo science is a process of corrupted science method employed inside a pretense of representing science – but inside that same constraint can never be ‘a body of unacceptable knowledge’ as this violates objective logic, domain theory as well as skepticism itself. Pseudo skepticism therefore, is a process of corrupted philosophy employed inside a deciding in lieu of or pretense of representing science.
Doubt, belief, ignorance of risk, along with social pressure to accede to stacked provisional knowledge; therefore, stand as the raw materials which are spun into the fabric of the lie. This is why the ethical skeptic relies upon the suspension of these things – embodied in the philosophy of epoché. Rather than decide for himself what is true and untrue, instead he robs the lie spinner (even if himself) of the raw material he desperately needs. He is not denying knowledge, rather denying the tradecraft of the lie.
Once plurality is established inside an argument, if something indeed be false, it should eventually betray its falsification through accrued intelligence. And in being found wrong, become highly informative in the process. If we choose instead to maintain an a priori intolerance of a subject as being wrong, and then further choose to block its research through the authority of clever apothegm, then no probative critical path development (intelligence) can ever be undertaken consequently. Wrong and seeing, is a world better state than is correct and blind.
This untrod horizon of pure skepticism therefore lies fallow and misunderstood through the sleight-of-hand wherein Pyrrhonistic epoché is straw man defined as a ‘denial of knowledge’. This is philosophical domain ineptness – and creates the false dilemma that methodical cynicism is therefore the only bifurcated alternative offered to the seeker of truth. Much of our ignorance and suffering today stems from a misunderstanding of these key principles.
There are three types of person. Those who create great ideas, those who pan them, and those who take the credit for them. Strive always to be the former. The latter will most often secretly reward an ability to create value through ideas; while at the same time ignoring the midmost: the doubter, debunker and cynic. These characters reside in a perpetual state of resentment towards creatively intelligent minds, accentuated by a ripe frustration over the lack of recognition their ‘critical thinking skills’ beget. Their distress mandates the formation of clubs which offer the means of celebrity and self aggrandizement they so desperately crave. Never fathoming that their ilk come at a dime-a-dozen. Therefore, take this as the lesson of skepticism as well. It is a discipline of value creation, and not one of critique.
~ The Ethical Skeptic
Much of our false skepticism and scientific pretense today stems from a misunderstanding of or ignorance around these key principles. Therefore, in order to clarify the difference between false and valid skepticism based on this understanding, 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’. So let’s revise the pop misunderstandings of skepticism along with its “scrutinizing validity/claims/proof in order to arrive at the conclusion which is most likely correct” boasts, into its true definition; in a way that transforms it from a shill pretense, acting in lieu of science – and into real professional praxis skepticism:
One who practices the method of suspended judgment, engages in dispassionate evidence gathering and objective unbiased reasoning in execution of the scientific method; shows willingness to consider opposing explanations without prejudice based on prior beliefs, and who pursues goals of clarity, value, discipline and the assessment of risk, in support of our knowledge development.
/epoché vanguards gnosis/ : Inquiry prompted by genuine curiosity under a suspended disposition of judgment, through dispassionate evidence gathering and objective unbiased reasoning in the process of executing the scientific method. A willingness to consider opposing explanations without prejudice based on prior beliefs, and a sincere pursuit of the goals of clarity, value, discipline and the assessment of risk, in the process of our knowledge development.
Two key questions of Ethical Skepticism:
1. If I was wrong, would I even know it?
2. If I was wrong, would I be enabling harm?
What Ethical Skepticism does not involve:
- any form of ‘denial of knowledge’ or equivocal gaming of knowledge ‘probability’ under a condition of acatalepsia
acatalepsia Fallacy – a flaw in critical path logic wherein one appeals to the Pyrrhonistic Skepticism principle that no knowledge can ever be entirely certain – and twists it into the implication that therefore, knowledge is ascertained by the mere establishment of some form of ‘probability’. Moreover, that therefore, when a probability is established, no matter how plausible, slight or scant in representation of the domain of information it might constitute, it is therefore now accepted truth. Because all knowledge is only ‘probable’ knowledge, all one has to do is spin an apparent probability, and one has ascertained accepted knowledge. Very similar in logic to the Occam’s Razor aphorism citing that the ‘simplest explanation’ is the correct explanation.
- using existing personal knowledge to ‘critically scrutinize’ and filter out disliked data
- obtaining knowledge by means of skepticism itself
- using systematic doubt to achieve anything novel
- ‘testing’ as a pretense of science, before gathering any intelligence or knowing what to test in the first place
- pretense of knowing what question to ask, without any research and period of unbiased intelligence development
- not a ‘mode of inquiry’ – it is inquiry itself
- no decisions or dispositions, based upon skepticism itself
- no targeting of subject or persons as being ‘pseudoscience’
- claims of limitations of human knowledge are no more ‘claims’ than is 2+2=4
- any uninformed or armchair version of ‘critical thinking’.
I would rather prove myself wrong on nine ideas and find one to be prodigiously valid,
than wallow passively inside the comforting correctness of ten unquestioned norms.
The reason ethical skepticism is critical, is that its disciplines serve as the foundation to social change and the eventual alleviation of suffering on the part of greater mankind. It is a refusal to live any longer under the spell of ignorance. We will not be acceptable to a larger outside community until we make this change as a species. Unless a mind is founded upon the ethical rigors of true skepticism – it can neither fathom nor apply the incremental advance of hypothesis – neither its intelligence, mechanism nor critical implications. Unmoored, adrift upon seas of apparent chaos, clutching desperately at the flotsam of apothegm and authority – a willful wallowing, the fruit of which is only ignorance and violence. Ethical skepticism as such, is a personal choice of scientific professional character which is expounded upon in the series parts below:
Ethical Skepticism – The Eight Tropes
Explained how skepticism is a thirst to know and authentically investigate. An extreme distaste for man’s propensity for self deception, social power, posing and contrivance. Not solely for the sake of simply knowing; but moreover to in small part, help in easing the pain of mankind’s suffering and lack of knowledge about the realm in which he finds himself unwilling participant.
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 – The Riddle of Skepticism
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 fell swoop. Rational thinking under Ockham’s Razor (ie. Parsimony) is the demonstrated ability to handle plurality of argument with integrity. The ability to wield great ideas and not drop them through incompetence.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 6 – Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say
It behooves the Ethical Skeptic to ensure that people’s words are not implied as club weapons to enforce specious religious doctrines. It behooves the Ethical Skeptic to understand their own employment of such words inside a context of ethical clarity; to disarm the social inference that such words mean more, than they really do. To err either way, is the source of fanaticism.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 7 – The Unexpected Virtue of Allow-For Thinking
The practice of Allow-For thinking is not tantamount to conforming nor denial beliefs on the part of the ethical skeptic. It is not a belief at all. Rather, a practical allegiance to science, a pledge to allow a matter of coherently observed plurality its day in the court of science, no matter what methods our personal prejudices, provisional knowledge, bunk intolerance, and social pressures might tempt us to bias.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 8 – The Watchers Must Also Be Watched
One of the tenets of Ethical Skepticism is “Monitor those who do the monitoring.” Two pitfalls derive from a monitoring process which has gone out of control. In-group biases tend to reinforce in the mind of the watchers, the need for their quality entity (external skepticism in lieu of science) and they may fail to be able to recognize a quality outcome – becoming the source of error themselves.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 9 – Skeptive Dissonance
The heart which is only focused upon itself, eventually tires of such a subject. There exists a discomfort one experiences in overcoming anosognosia. This is considered the first step in the journey of ethical skepticism.
Ethical Skepticism – Part 10 – The Demarcation of Skepticism
A competent understanding of the demarcation of what constitutes skepticism, is absolutely essential to the ethical skeptic’s ability to spot agency and agency’s poseur. This is the purpose of the four demarcation boundaries of skepticism.
epoché vanguards gnosis