Wikipedia: In philosophy, skepticism refers to a mode of inquiry that emphasizes critical scrutiny, caution, and intellectual rigor; a method of obtaining knowledge through systematic doubt and continual testing; and finally is a set of claims about the limitations of human knowledge and the proper response to such limitations.
Skepticism is not a method of obtaining knowledge. Systematic doubt will not produce novel understanding, only serve to affirm what one already knows. These principles of ethical skepticism serve to highlight two common misconceptions which a poorly instructed amateur brings to the skepticism table. Mistakes which are exploited by social control forces, in order to push favored religions and social agendas in the name of science. Skepticism is a suspension of disposition on the part of an at risk or targeted observer, against being unduly swayed by agency. Skepticism does not dictate answers, nor is it a ‘world view’, as fake skeptics are prone to claim. Skepticism is the prerequisite discipline of mind on the part of one before conducting science. But it is that science which ‘obtains knowledge’, and not the skepticism itself. Beware of those who do not grasp this, especially if they are in the celebrity or journalistic limelight.
Aside from these two glaring fatal flaws, Wikipedia outlines some of what constitutes skepticism in the above definition.1 Ironically the last element in the definition belies the first two. But this oxymoron slipped by the definition writer at Wikipedia. There exists a problem of philosophy however, in that a sufficiently detrimental portion of those who identify themselves as ‘skeptics’ teach and practice a twisted version of skepticism based upon these errant principles. The Wikipedia author has purposely conflated science and skepticism, so that anyone who calls themself a skeptic, can therefore make claims in the name of science – simply through practicing a personal declaration of ‘skepticism’. This is bad philosophy. This has produced bad social results. This has produced bad science.
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 discipline underlying the scientific method; and not one which pretends to take its place. One which I call Ethical Skepticism:
/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 contributing to harm?
What is NOT included:
- any form of ‘denial of knowledge’
- 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’.
Ethical Skepticism is a blend of Empirical and Philosophical Skepticism, the tenets of both of which are vetted as to their efficacy in delivering value, clarity, probability and risk awareness inside man’s knowledge development process. It rejects Cartesian Doubt as a racket of a priori simplistic predictive based knowledge, self delusion and methodical evasion (See Ethical Skepticism PART 2). Instead, Ethical Skepticism dictates a mute disposition on any topic which science has not studied or the Ethical Skeptic himself has not studied. Ethical Skepticism petitions for Ockham’s Razor plurality in research when sponsorship has shown adequate necessity, and opposes all efforts to squelch such research. One should not infer from the term ‘Ethical Skepticism’ a personal boast of morality, as those who are ignorant of graduate level philosophy are prone to accuse; rather comprehend it as an intellectual and practical allegiance to an actual long held standard of science. It derives its moniker and philosophical base from Ethical Intuitionism. The context of ethics employed here is deontological in as far as the adherence to standards of protocol, such as the real scientific method, are regarded as the standards suitable to direct our actions. Yet, still consequentialist from the perspective that the outcomes of value, clarity and mitigation of risk/failure manifest as the signature handiwork of those who practice such ethics.
Ethical Skepticism is an invaluable tool for conditioning of mind and data sets, practiced by those in our history who have born true brilliance in their successes inside of science, social issues, technology, government and discovery. An Ethical Skeptic first recognizes the shortcomings of those who hold power and those of his own assumptions. The Ethical Skeptic then sets about a methodology which neutralizes these shortcomings and approaches solving the riddles wrapped around our resulting ignorance as a culture and body scientific. The Ethical Skeptic is not as concerned about doubting things and always being right as he is about defending a mental self discipline of epoché; followed by the establishment of clarity and value in his research. He is insatiably curious, yet obsessive in defending the integrity of the knowledge development process. He says “Look here, at what is predictably consistent. It may be significant. Let’s mature it enough to test, along with its counter claims, for falsification.” He tolerates the potential falsification of his own pursuit, despite the irony of having pursued it passionately.
As an Ethical Skeptic, you are the one tasked with maintaining a discriminating mind with regard to process. No, you are not claiming to represent science or its conclusions. But one can as a skeptic indeed take a stand to defend the method of science when one observes it being abrogated. This is what the term ‘ethics’ means, an allegiance to a standard of practice – and not an allegiance to a particular set of outcomes, or categories of thought one considers invalid.
Protecting the integrity of the methods of science is not the same thing as tendering conclusions in lieu of science.
All this is embodied inside The First Duty of Ethical Skepticism.
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’.
Skepticism does not evaluate claims, as only science can do that. Skepticism does not pretend to speak for science nor act in lieu of science. Skepticism is a mental discipline which prepares its participant to do science. The pretend SSkeptic in contrast has memorized the one-liners which explain why the scientific method is unnecessary. That simply by means of the miracle of rational thought, which only they and their fellows possess, they can intercede on behalf of science. The pretend SSkeptic proselytizes children and promotes themselves through celebrity and intimidation, in a vain attempt to squelch unwelcome subjects, observations or thought. The pretend SSkeptic uses doubt like a weapon, via its selective and prejudiced application employed to promote an unacknowledged set of beliefs. The pretend SSkeptic highlights visibly and often that he is a skeptic and enforces plausible conformance claims without evidence, based on a list of disfavored subjects. He employs predictive testing supporting favored explanations, at best; and stopping there, then demands proof be the first step provided by outsiders, without the aid of science. The pretend SSkeptic is an opportunist who leverages scientists’ lack of knowledge of sister disciplines to change the message of what scientists think, then boasts in visible media that his contentions represent the consensus opinion of scientists.
The Critical Role of Scientific Resilience Through Ethical Skepticism
Within each of us resides the Quixotic heart, the romanticist longing to be free from the prison which progressively adapts its walls to our observing of the reality in which we reside. A Schrödinger’s Cat entrapment. Bars which afford us emancipation, only to reveal that our escape has served simply to introduce us to another prison cell of observation and paradox. It is the keen intellect and ethical nature of the true skeptic, the true scientist, which prompts him to tilt his lance toward such phantoms. He does not mock; rather, he laughs. He recognizes that conformity is simply a resignation, a giving up; and is nothing akin to the purity of Taoist surrender. In defiant errand of mercy, he succumbs to an irresistible dissatisfaction; a labor of understanding that pattern solving and conformance serve to produce nothing but the walls and bars of the prison itself. This is our appel aux armes, the call to arms of the ethical skeptic.
A true scientist can discern the prison walls. It is in his nature to rebel. The technician and the diagnostician observe only arms waving in the wind.
This rebellion of course is not tantamount to Michael Shermer’s ‘whimsy;’ an exercise foisted to elicit the compliant and false version of skepticism. Whimsy is simply a tennis ball employed inside a game of self entertainment. A flailing of arms in the wind, deriving comfort at the striking of strawman and scarecrow constructs. Whismy is the shotgun skeet of the pseudo-intellectual and pattern recognition intoxicated. Endlessly reminding themselves of how smart they are through a repetition of offering up ridiculous notions and successfully shooting them down via the ceremonial and marital art of denial. Mocking is the surety that knowledge is something to be possessed, when the whole of the universe teaches us the abject lesson that such is not true (see Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality). The ethical skeptic must first spot this game in himself. It is the first dragon he must slay; and whether of stone or flesh it makes no matter. In such day, he becomes an ethical skeptic.
Thomas Kuhn accordingly laments in his work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions :
“…my most fundamental objective is to urge a change in the perception and evaluation of familiar data…” ³
Are Kuhn’s data windmills or dragons? In one frame of reference we mock, inside the other we effect resilience. This is what the mind yearning to be free, recognizes in Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. The second lesson of ethical skepticism is to understand this. Revolution does not, nor even most often, reside in the upturning of groundbreaking new measures or discoveries. It resides instead within our collective ability to recognize the recursive delusional entrapments of our scientific circles. Our love for Don Quixote resides not in celebration of the tilting at windmills, rather the comedic changement de cap, which allows him to exercise his tragic quest inside a realm of agreed containment.† We weep at the containment of the resilient will. We celebrate ethical skepticism.
The Legacy of Scientific Rebellion: Resilience
Today we are undergoing a revolution in the science surrounding intestinal health, auto-immunity and this amazing and diverse new organ we have discovered called the microbiome. This discovery was made despite the efforts of, and not by, Science Based Medicine. Instead it was precipitated by the Don Quixote’s of health – the consumers – the patients. Those who’s children are injured, those who suffer and those who are ethically skeptical of being forced to endure endless, expensive, side-effected and useless symptom treatments, passed off as ‘medicine.’ Science Based Medicine has sought to do nothing but criticize the ethical actions of these victims and seek to enact legislative prohibition of their rights. This is the true delusion – the mandatory thinking that they own, represent and are, science.
/philosophy : nature of science : ethics/ : ability of a society to perceive and deliberate a course of discovery and development which targets the alleviation of suffering; one which rehabilitates its scientific methodology and knowledge gracefully and robustly to misfortune, mistake or change.
Resilience is defined as the ability of an entity to both recover from and adjust its future course gracefully and robustly in relation to error and change. The Khun-loss of science is demonstrated only in the very nature and level of its ability to effect resilience.‡ Ethical Skepticism recognizes that the whole of life is one tumult, a crescendo of misfortune and change. Our will to effect entropic benefit inside this chaos not only serves to prove that we exist as consciousness, but moreover are a precursor and independent actor inside the interplay of tragedy and comedy. Our prison is a tragedy, and we transcend through the freedom of comedy, extant before such tragedy ever dawned on our mind. In the same way, science must be directed by the collective will of our society and not by those who declare themselves and their cronies to indeed be science. The same principle applies to skepticism. Resilience will come by handing the ethical direction of science back into the hands of those it is meant to serve. This elicited in no better fashion than by delineation of the difference between mocking and comedy:
Comedy is the protest of consciousness to the tragedy of paradox. Mocking is the abject refusal to see it.
Today we observe that it is mocking, which is the chief tool of those who seek to squelch and control the direction of science for their own selfish ends. The control freaks among us, refuse to see the true nature and need of scientific rebellion and resilience. They are the fakers, the mockers, the ‘anti-science’ among us all. They can only see windmills to their last dying and ineffectual breath. It is incumbent upon us to promote genuine skeptical thought and decry pseudo-skepticism, imperious institutional doctrines and the cultivation of ignorance.
The Ethical Skeptic (Octavus Thesauri)
First and foremost finds fulfillment through disciplined pursuit of an insatiable curiosity; scrutinizing and maintaining caution around his own assumptions, regardless of where they are obtained; discriminating with discipline, ontological and religious cosmologies from actual science.
- Holds his skeptic peers accountable for abusive behavior, dishonesty, conflative or extrapolative pretense with actual science, epistemological broaches and appeals to false authorities.
- Challenges pat answers, one-liners, old truisms, social pressure mandates and institutional doctrines which surreptitiously evade scrutiny under the scientific method.
- Does not enforce one answer, nor consider/accuse under the basis of a ‘belief;’ rather considers new data without pre-filtering, exploring several ‘constructs’ at once, some of which may be diametrically in opposition.
- Acknowledges with integrity a sufficient threshold of plurality attained on a singular construct, warranting hypothesis development under the scientific method. Keeps a keen eye on the next appropriate question and objects at the asking of the wrong or manipulative question under the scientific method.
- Is not arrogant nor disdainful, nor seeks personally aggrandizing victory over others. Rather, is self-confident enough to allow the scientific method to proceed no matter whether or not the subject threatens his own club, status, philosophies, authorship, ego, or even rational tolerance.
- Does not strive to disprove, but rather allows constructs to falsify themselves through accrued verity; eschewing promotion of a favored idea solely because it is promoted by peer pressure or is the conforming, predicate confirming or simplest explanation.
- Does not seek immediate forced proof before consideration of an idea, nor promote any enforced truth; but rather pursues
Value – as measured by achieving beneficial outcomes in their research,
Clarity – as measured by the ability to obtain common ground or understanding with opponents when possible, and
Integrity of The Epignosis – defends the integrity of the Knowledge Development Process, resists the promotion of religion as absolute truth and denies the cultivation of ignorance.
The Knowledge Development Process (The Epignosis)
¹ Nozick, Robert; Philosophical Explanations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1981, ISBN 0-674-66448-5; pp. 179-187.
² Rosen, Stanley, Editor; The Philosopher’s Handbook: A User’s Guide to Western Philosophy, Random House, Inc., New York, NY, 2000; ISBN 978-0-375-72011-6; pp. 165-169.
³ Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1996, 3rd edition, ).
† Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra; El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha; Public domain.
‡ Bird, Alexander, “Thomas Kuhn”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2013/entries/thomas-kuhn/>.