Philosophical Scepticism

Philosophical Scepticism


  • Philosophical scepticism is a philosophical school of thought that questions the possibility of certainty in knowledge.
  • It asserts that knowledge is not possible, either in total or regarding particular domains.
  • Scepticism is present in some form in many philosophical traditions, including Western and Eastern schools of thought.
  • Its theoretical basis is the claim that evidence does not provide certainty in knowledge and that belief is not inherently justified.

Different Forms of Scepticism

  • Global scepticism denies the possibility of any knowledge. It is also occasionally considered as absolute scepticism.
  • Local scepticism denies knowledge in specific areas.
  • Academic scepticism questions certainty but doesn’t reject the possibility of knowledge. Followers of this perspective were known as Academics during the Hellenistic period.
  • Pyrrhonian scepticism suspends judgement (epoche) on all beliefs, including sceptical ones, and maintains a position of doubt. This is a stance of continuous enquiry.

Scepticism’s Historical Foundations

  • The origins of scepticism are generally traced back to ancient Greece.
  • Ancient philosophers such as Socrates, with his irony and the Socratic method, have been considered progenitors of scepticism.
  • The Pluralists and The Pyrrhonists were critical schools in the historical development of scepticism.
  • David Hume, an Enlightenment philosopher, is frequently associated with the introduction of modern scepticism.

Impact of Scepticism on Other Fields

  • Scepticism has greatly influenced areas such as science, where systematic doubt is an important part of the scientific method.
  • Scepticism has also played a significant role in the field of ethics, as the idea of moral knowledge and certainty has been critically evaluated.
  • Scepticism poses significant epistemological challenges and has influenced the development of theories of knowledge and belief.

Critiques of Scepticism

  • Some critique scepticism as being self-defeating, asking if sceptics are sceptical of scepticism itself.
  • Others criticise it for leading to epistemological nihilism or complete inaction.
  • Meanwhile, some argue that scepticism fails to account for everyday epistemological practices and human nature.

Exam-Proof Arguments

  • Thoroughly understand Descartes’ scepticism, specifically his dream and evil demon arguments.
  • Examine and understand the Challenge of Induction, which David Hume heightens into the Problem of Induction.
  • Familiarise yourself with scepticism as it pertains to perception - how do we know our perceptions correspond to reality?
  • Apprehend the critique of scepticism – how does one refute sceptical arguments and how can one solve sceptical paradoxes?