The business of scepticism is to be dangerous. Scepticism challenges established institutions. If we teach everybody, including, say, high school students, habits of sceptical thought, they will probably not restrict their scepticism to UFOs, aspirin commercials and 35,000-year-old channellees. Maybe they'll start asking awkward questions about economic, or social, or political, or religious institutions. Perhaps they'll challenge the opinions of those in power. Then where would we be?
I am not suggesting that history or scepticism by themselves can provide all the answers to all these questions. History, after all, is not a forward-looking discipline. It can only tell us what happened the last time, not what will happen next time. Similarly, scepticism is hardly sufficient to do anything but ask questions. But together they-history and scepticism-form a potent force for enquiry.
Moral scepticism can no more be refuted or proved by logic than intellectual scepticism can. When we stick to it that there is truth (be it of either kind), we do so with our whole nature, and resolve to stand or fall by the results. The sceptic with his whole nature adopts the doubting attitude; but which of us is the wiser, Omniscience only knows.
The idea that the State is capable of solving social problems is now viewed with great scepticism - which foretells a coming change. As soon as scepticism is applied to the State, the State falls, since it fails at everything except increasing its power, and so can only survive on propaganda, which relies on unquestioning faith.
The idea that the State is capable of solving social problems is now viewed with great scepticism "" which foretells a coming change. As soon as scepticism is applied to the State, the State falls, since it fails at everything except increasing its power, and so can only survive on propaganda, which relies on unquestioning faith.
It has often been argued that absolute scepticism is self-contradictory; but this is a mistake: and even if it were not so, it would be no argument against the absolute sceptic, inasmuch as he does not admit that no contradictory propositions are true. Indeed, it would be impossible to move such a man, for his scepticism consists in considering every argument and never deciding upon its validity; he would, therefore, act in this way in reference to the arguments brought against him.
Charles Sanders Peirce
It is quite an old-fashioned fallacy to suppose that our objection to scepticism is that it removes the discipline from life. Our objection to scepticism is that it removes the motive power. Materialism is not a thing which destroys mere restraint. Materialism itself is the great restraint.
Gilbert K. Chesterton
It seems certain, that though a man, in a flush of humour, after intense reflection on the many contradictions and imperfections of human reason, may entirely renounce all belief and opinion, it is impossible for him to persevere in this total scepticism, or make it appear in his conduct for a few hours.
Scepticism commonly takes up the room left by defect of imagination, and is the very quality of mind most likely to seek for sensual proof of supersensual things. If one came from the dead it could not believe; and yet it longs for such a witness, and will put up with a very dubious one.
James Russell Lowell
Scepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness.
Nothing can be more unphilosophical than to be positive or dogmatical on any subject; and even if excessive scepticism could be maintained it would not be more destructive to all just reasoning and inquiry. When men are the most sure and arrogant, they are commonly the most mistaken, and have there given reins to passion, without that proper deliberation and suspense which can alone secure them from the grossest absurdities.
Colour, Figure, Motion, Extension and the like, considered only so many Sensations in the Mind, are perfectly known, there being nothing in them which is not perceived. But if they are looked on as notes or Images, referred to Things or Archetypes existing without the Mind, then are we involved all in Scepticism.
There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: - through infancy's unconscious spell, boyhood's thoughtless faith, adolescence' doubt (the common doom). and then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood's pondering repose of If.
As its best, SF is the medium in which our miserable certainty that tomorrow will be different from today in ways we cant predict, can be transmuted to a sense of excitement and anticipation, occasionally evolving into awe. Poised between intransigent scepticism and uncritical credulity, it is par excellence the literature of the open mind.
I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmostphere of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary.
Scepticism is an ability, or mental attitude, which opposes appearances to judgments in any way whatsoever, with the result that,owing to the equipollence of the objects and reasons thus opposed we are brought firstly to a state of mental suspense and next to a state of "unperturbedness" or quietude.
Generations of Humeans have... been misled into offering analyses of causation and of natural law that have been far too weak because they had no basis for accepting the existence of either cause and effect or natural laws... Hume's scepticism about cause and effect and his agnosticism about the external world are of course jettisoned the moment he leaves his study.
Each new ontological theory, propounded in lieu of previous ones shown to be untenable, has been followed by a new criticism leading to a new scepticism. All possible conceptions have been one by one tried and found wanting; and so the entire field of speculation has been gradually exhausted without positive result: the only result reached being the negative one above stated, that the reality existing behind all appearances is, and must ever be, unknown.
Finally she spoke with a forced scepticism, 'So... if those girls are witches, and I was the sacrifice - what does that make you?' 'A witch-hunter.' She raised a brow, 'A witch-hunter named 'Hunter'? How very original.' Hunter sighed, 'You're a very pleasant , friendly character, aren't you?
Sometimes I think I am going mad. I live for days in the mystery and tears of things so that the commonest object, the most familiar face- even my own- become ghostly, unreal, enigmatic. I get into an attitude of almost total scepticism, nescience, solipsism, in a world of dumb, sphinx-like things that cannot explain themselves. The discovery of how I am situated- a sentient being on a globe in space overshadows me. I wish I were just nothing.
If there is, to be sure, something more terrifying than the history of the fall of great empires, it is the history of the death of religions. Volney himself was overcome by this feeling as he visited the innumerable ruins of once-sacred buildings. The true believer may still escape from this impression, but with the inherent scepticism of our age all of us must sometime tremble to find so many dark gates opening out on to nothingness.
Gerard de Nerval
I am not a committed pacifist. I would not hold that it is under all imaginable circumstances wrong to use violence, even though use of violence is in some sense unjust. I believe that one has to estimate relative justices. But the use of violence and the creation of some degree of injustice can only be justified on the basis of the claim and the assessment-which always ought to be undertaken very, very seriously and with a good deal of scepticism that this violence is being exercised because a more just result is going to be achieved.
What's the greatest enemy of Christianity to-day? Frozen meat. In the past only members of the upper classes were thoroughly sceptical, despairing, negative. Why? Among other reasons, because they were the only people who could afford to eat too much meat. Now there's cheap Canterbury lamb and Argentine chilled beef. Even the poor can afford to poison themselves into complete scepticism and despair.
Why should each generation be brought up on the selective prejudices of the one before it? I believe that this is exactly the point of history. And not just reading or studying history but also approaching it with a sceptical bent of mind. When each generation approaches received wisdom with scepticism, perhaps it will reassess established notions of right and wrong, love and hate. Perhaps it will finally see mistaken priorities for what they really are. Perhaps it will do something that previous generations steadfastly refused to do.
The cause which is blocking all progress today is the subtle scepticism which whispers in a million ears that things are not good enough to be worth improving. If the world is good we are revolutionaries , if the world is evil we must be conservatives . These essays, futile as they are considered as serious literature, are yet ethically sincere , since they seek to remind men that things must be loved first and improved afterwards.
Gilbert K. Chesterton
Thank God for that. You can shut them, say, 'Hold on a moment.' You play God to it. But who has ever torn himself from the claw that encloses you when you drop a seed in a TV parlour? It grows you any shape it wishes! It is an environment as real as the world. It becomes and is the truth. Books can be beaten down with reason. But with all my knowledge and scepticism, I have never been able to argue with a one-hundred-piece symphony orchestra, full colour, three dimensions, and I being in and part of those incredible parlours.
[Charles] Nodier's later view was that fantasy reconciles men to their fate. Fantasy and the taste for chimeras, he wrote, are symptoms of a time of political decay and transition, when the unpleasant realities of political life are too hard to bear. They serve a useful purpose in that they give men hope when scepticism and disillusion would otherwise drive them to despair.
In the way that scepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the sceptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many cases consonant with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped.
And indeed nothing but the most determined scepticism, along with a great degree of indolence, can justify this aversion to metaphysics. For if truth be at all within the reach of human capacity, it is certain it must lie very deep and abstruse: and to hope we shall arrive at it without pains, while the greatest geniuses have failed with the utmost pains, must certainly be esteemed sufficiently vain and presumptuous. I pretend to no such advantage in the philosophy I am going to unfold, and would esteem it a strong presumption against it, were it so very easy and obvious.
The human understanding is a revelation from its maker, which can never be disputed or doubted. There can be no scepticism, Pyrrhonism, or incredulity or infidelity here. No prophecies, no miracles are necessary to prove this celestical communication. This revelation has made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one. We can never be so certain of any prophecy, or the fulfilment of any prophecy, or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle, as we are from the revelation of nature, that is, nature's God, that two and two are equal to four.
My main reason for scepticism about the Huxley/Sagan theory is that the human brain is demonstrably eager to see faces in random patterns, as we know from scientific evidence, on top of the numerous legends about faces of Jesus, or the Virgin Mary, or Mother Teresa, being seen on slices of toast, or pizzas, or patches of damp on a wall. This eagerness is enhanced if the pattern departs from randomness in the specific direction of being symmetrical.
Philosophy arises from an unusually obstinate attempt to arrive at real knowledge. What passes for knowledge in ordinary life suffers from three defects: it is cocksure, vague and self-contradictory. The first step towards philosophy consists in becoming aware of these defects, not in order to rest content with a lazy scepticism, but in order to substitute an amended kind of knowledge which shall be tentative, precise and self-consistent.
The merits and services of Christianity have been industriously extolled by its hired advocates. Every Sunday its praises are sounded from myriads of pulpits. It enjoys the prestige of an ancient establishment and the comprehensive support of the State. It has the ear of rulers and the control of education. Every generation is suborned in its favor. Those who dissent from it are losers, those who oppose it are ostracised; while in the past, for century after century, it has replied to criticism with imprisonment, and to scepticism with the dungeon and the stake. By such means it has induced a general tendency to allow its pretensions without inquiry and its beneficence without proof.
Joseph Mazzini Wheeler
The Greeks made Space the subject-matter of a science of supreme simplicity and certainty. Out of it grew, in the mind of classical antiquity, the idea of pure science. Geometry became one of the most powerful expressions of that sovereignty of the intellect that inspired the thought of those times. At a later epoch, when the intellectual despotism of the Church, which had been maintained through the Middle Ages, had crumbled, and a wave of scepticism threatened to sweep away all that had seemed most fixed, those who believed in Truth clung to Geometry as to a rock, and it was the highest ideal of every scientist to carry on his science 'more geometrico.
A state of scepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds. But the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude, that if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision. Their love of the marvellous and supernatural, their curiosity with regard to future events, and their strong propensity to extend their hopes and fears beyond the limits of the visible world, were the principal causes which favoroud the establishment of Polytheism. So urgent on the vulgar is the necessity of believing, that the fall of any system of mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of some other mode of superstition. (...) an object much less deserving would have been sufficient to fill the vacant place in their hearts.
The greatest challenge that has surreptitiously arisen in our age is the challenge of knowledge, indeed, not as against ignorance; but knowledge as conceived and disseminated throughout the world by Western civilization; knowledge whose nature has become problematic because it has lost its true purpose due to being unjustly conceived, and has thus brought about chaos in man's life instead of, and rather than, peace and justice; knowledge which pretends to be real but which is productive of confusion and scepticism, which has elevated doubt and conjecture to the 'scientific' rank in methodology; knowledge which has, for the first time in history, brought chaos to the Three Kingdom of Nature; the animal, vegetal and mineral.
Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas
In the pragmatist, streetwise climate of advanced postmodern capitalism, with its scepticism of big pictures and grand narratives, its hard-nosed disenchantment with the metaphysical, 'life' is one among a whole series of discredited totalities. We are invited to think small rather than big - ironically, at just the point when some of those out to destroy Western civilization are doing exactly the opposite. In the conflict between Western capitalism and radical Islam, a paucity of belief squares up to an excess of it. The West finds itself faced with a full-blooded metaphysical onslaught at just the historical point that it has, so to speak, philosophically disarmed. As far as belief goes, postmodernism prefers to travel light: it has beliefs, to be sure, but it does not have faith.
The first phase of modernism, which so far as the English language goes we associate with Pound and Yeats, Wyndham Lewis and Eliot and Joyce, was clerkly enough, sceptical in many ways; and yet we can without difficulty convict most of these authors of dangerous lapses into mythical thinking. All were men of critical temper, haters of the decadence of the times and the myths of mauvaise foi. All, in different ways, venerated tradition and had programmes which were at once modern and anti-schismatic. This critical temper was admittedly made to seem consistent with a strong feeling for renovation; the mood was eschatological, but scepticism and a refined traditionalism held in check what threatened to be a bad case of literary primitivism. It was elsewhere that the myths ran riot.
In fact this desire for consonance in the apocalyptic data, and our tendency to be derisive about it, seem to me equally interesting. Each manifests itself, in the presence of the other, in most of our minds. We are all ready to be sceptical about Father Marystone, but we are most of us given to some form of 'centurial mysticism, ' and even to more extravagant apocalyptic practices: a point I shall be taking up in my fourth talk. What it seems to come to is this. Men in the middest make considerable imaginative investments in coherent patterns which, by the provision of an end, make possible a satisfying consonance with the origins and with the middle. That is why the image of the end can never be permanently falsified. But they also, when awake and sane, feel the need to show a marked respect for things as they are; so that there is a recurring need for adjustments in the interest of reality as well as of control. This has relevance to literary plots, images of the grand temporal consonance; and we may notice that there is the same co-existence of naive acceptance and scepticism here as there is in apocalyptic. Broadly speaking, it is the popular story that sticks most closely to established conventions; novels the clerisy calls 'major' tend to vary them, and to vary them more and more as time goes by. I shall be talking about this in some detail later, but a few brief illustrations might be useful now. I shall refer chiefly to one aspect of the matter, the falsification of one's expectation of the end. The story that proceeded very simply to its obviously predestined end would be nearer myth than novel or drama. Peripeteia, which has been called the equivalent, in narrative, of irony in rhetoric, is present in every story of the least structural sophistication. Now peripeteia depends on our confidence of the end; it is a disconfirmation followed by a consonance; the interest of having our expectations falsified is obviously related to our wish to reach the discovery or recognition by an unexpected and instructive route. It has nothing whatever to do with any reluctance on our part to get there at all. So that in assimilating the peripeteia we are enacting that readjustment of expectations in regard to an end which is so notable a feature of naive apocalyptic. And we are doing rather more than that; we are, to look at the matter in another way, re-enacting the familiar dialogue between credulity and scepticism. The more daring the peripeteia, the more we may feel that the work respects our sense of reality; and the more certainly we shall feel that the fiction under consideration is one of those which, by upsetting the ordinary balance of our naive expectations, is finding something out for us, something real. The falsification of an expectation can be terrible, as in the death of Cordelia; it is a way of finding something out that we should, on our more conventional way to the end, have closed our eyes to. Obviously it could not work if there were not a certain rigidity in the set of our expectations.
Not to grow up properly is to retain our 'caterpillar' quality from childhood (where it is a virtue) into adulthood (where it becomes a vice). In childhood our credulity serves us well. It helps us to pack, with extraordinary rapidity, our skulls full of the wisdom of our parents and our ancestors. But if we don't grow out of it in the fullness of time, our caterpillar nature makes us a sitting target for astrologers, mediums, gurus, evangelists and quacks. The genius of the human child, mental caterpillar extraordinary, is for soaking up information and ideas, not for criticizing them. If critical faculties later grow it will be in spite of, not because of, the inclinations of childhood. The blotting paper of the child's brain is the unpromising seedbed, the base upon which later the sceptical attitude, like a struggling mustard plant, may possibly grow. We need to replace the automatic credulity of childhood with the constructive scepticism of adult science.
Apocalypse is a part of the modern Absurd. This is testimony to its vitality, a vitality dependent upon its truth to the set of our fear and desire. Acknowledged, qualified by the scepticism of the clerks, it is-even when ironized, even when denied-an essential element in the arts, a permanent feature of a permanent literature of crisis. If it becomes myth, if its past is forgotten, we sink quickly into myth, into stereotype. We have to employ our knowledge of the fictive. With it we can explain what is essential and eccentric about early modernism, and purge the trivial and stereotyped from the arts of our own time. Great men deceived themselves by neglecting to do this; other men, later, have a programme against doing it. The critics should know their duty. Part of this duty, certainly, will be to abandon ways of speaking which on the one hand obscure the true nature of our fictions-by confusing them with myths, by rendering spatial what is essentially temporal-and on the other obscure our sense of reality by suggesting that fictions represent some kind of surrender or false consolation. The critical issue, given the perpetual assumption of crisis, is no less than the justification of ideas of order. They have to be justified in terms of what survives, and also in terms of what we can accept as valid in a world different from that out of which they come, resembling the earlier world only in that there is biological and cultural continuity of some kind. Our order, our form, is necessary; our skepticism as to fictions requires that it shall not be spurious. It is an issue central to the understanding of modern literary fiction, and I hope in my next talk to approach it more directly.
In the nouveau roman of Robbe-Grillet there is an attempt at a more or less Copernican change in the relation between the paradigm and the text. In Camus the counter-pointing is less doctrinaire; in Dostoevsky there is no evidence of any theoretical stand at all, simply rich originality within or without, as it chances, normal expectations. All these are novels which most of us would agree (and it is by a consensus of this kind only that these matters, quite rightly, are determined) to be at least very good. They represent in varying degrees that falsification of simple expectations as to the structure of a future which constitutes peripeteia. We cannot, of course, be denied an end; it is one of the great charms of books that they have to end. But unless we are extremely naive, as some apocalyptic sects still are, we do not ask that they progress towards that end precisely as we have been given to believe. In fact we should expect only the most trivial work to conform to pre-existent types. It is essential to the drift of all these talks that what I call the scepticism of the clerisy operates in the person of the reader as a demand for constantly changing, constantly more subtle, relationships between a fiction and the paradigms, and that this expectation enables a writer much inventive scope as he works to meet and transcend it. The presence of such paradigms in fictions may be necessary-that is a point I shall be discussing later-but if the fictions satisfy the clerisy, the paradigms will be to a varying but always great extent attenuated or obscured. The pressure of reality on us is always varying, as Stevens might have said: the fictions must change, or if they are fixed, the interpretations must change. Since we continue to 'prescribe laws to nature'-Kant's phrase, and we do-we shall continue to have a relation with the paradigms, but we shall change them to make them go on working. If we cannot break free of them, we must make sense of them.
All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness and the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly. In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilisation. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask: 'What is truth?' So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost another name for responsibility. Yet he stands for ever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgement-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.