The Values of Skepticism
Practicing skepticism is crucial to protecting oneself from believing unsubstantiated claims, it also allows people to discover the truth about their assumptions, and become more knowledgeable by using their own reasoning. Therefore individuals should adopt a more skeptical outlook to their everyday lives. A reason for there to be ideas efficiently transmitted to people, is that they are presented in a finished form. However, ideas are plentiful and human brain can only deal with a small number of them, and individuals usually tend to show a practical interest in adopting only the best idea.
Sometimes people choose ideas based on their cultural beliefs such as respect to an authority figure, tradition, religion, commonsense, spirituality, prejudices, etc. The virtue of skepticism attempts to apply rationality to thoroughly get to the bottom of ideas with the great intention to seek for reliable knowledge. While thinking about the prompt of this essay I realized that people do this everyday, sometimes people question authority and ideas presented by other individuals. How do we know when it is appropriate to do so?
Main leading thinkers and philosophers of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution were highly sophisticated skeptics, and whether it was provoked by their own curiosity or their own knowledge they continued to doubt the way natural things in life were explained by clergy individuals. Think about it for a second and it makes sense. Perhaps authority figures may not always be correct, and therefore it is very significant to doubt or have a critical attitude against authority.
If philosophers like Copernicus never hypothesized that our planet earth is not the center of the universe, then we would most likely still be living with geocentric point of views. It is never a good suggestion to accept some ideas without questioning them before, but unfortunately we do this everyday. For example, at school during class, students usually take the professor’s word as they educate them, and for all they know all this information that was once given is completely false.
Not many of the students actually take the time to do their own research and try to seek for the truth. In our society we have come to trust what other people tell us, it would be a better idea to have our own opinion and not always trust what our ears hear. One of the many important arguments regarding skepticism is that a certain individual will doubt ideas until the very end of the argument and eventually come up to the closest to true knowledge.
Whatever the idea of the subject may be or whomever the person asked may be, questions are always necessary, essential and only if they are the right questions, the response will always be the correct one. What this basically means is that the pursuit to ask questions and obtain answers is the starting point of true skepticism. When a certain person believes on something without questioning its authenticity, it leaves their mind completely open to believing all kinds of different unsubstantiated claims, from foretelling to forwarded e-mails sent by anonymous people.
This means that people are literally being led by misinformation, which supports Carl Sagan’s point in The Dragon in my Garage “Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless. ” (pg. 171) As an example to illustrate this problem of unjustified beliefs, I would like to introduce this fictional scenario. Imagine that a person receives a forwarded Email from his friend, and it claims that the President of the United States is an unpatriotic, foreign-born Muslim, socialist person who desires the terrorists to win, and consequently of this he or she must immediately be impeached.
In the off likelihood that someone happens to take this hypothetical false e-mail to heart, this certain individual will begin to base their political decisions on this extremely false belief. This person could attempt to vote the person out from the office, perhaps create a campaign for impeachment, or even try to persuade others to not vote for this person as a presidential candidate. It is certainly not wrong at all to commit these political activities, but the explanation behind doing so, are absolutely wrong. They are not proven in reality.
Occasionally when people are confronted with unethical claims such as the forwarded e-mail, they would rather investigate it thoroughly before taking it on faith. After all, the resource of this information is a forwarded e-mail, which could have been initiated by anyone. To begin with, are any of those reasons even good enough to impeach the president? Well, not being a U. S. citizen and being a terrorist supporter may be great reasons to impeach someone, but for being a Muslim or a socialist individual is definitely not a good reason.
As a result, it is very comprehensible that the significance of each claim differs from the others, and like Carl Sagan said if people don’t exercise some minimal skepticism “If you have an absolutely untrammeled credulity, there is probably some price you will have to pay later. ” (pg. 8). Of course this may be a very tremendous illustration, but it satisfies the point. Skepticism is a good way to introduce a person to new things and it is one of the best methods of acquiring knowledge, as people are always certain of the things they know.
It is distinguished that raising questions for the sake of it will not be considered profound skepticism, since the need to raise questions is supposed to bring out the total truth behind anything, but when it comes to new unproven claims, why not be the first one to examine it? First consider if the claim leads to the conclusion, then investigate it, and gather informative credible sources. Then consider the information and make a hypothesis based on the evidence. Chances are, if the justification is supported by continuous evidence it is a good theory.