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Skepticism or scepticism (see spelling differences) is generally any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere.
Philosophical skepticism is an overall approach that requires all information to be well supported by evidence. Classical philosophical skepticism derives from the 'Skeptikoi', a school who "asserted nothing". Adherents of Pyrrhonism, for instance, suspend judgment in investigations. Skeptics may even doubt the reliability of their own senses. Religious skepticism, on the other hand is "doubt concerning basic religious principles (such as immortality, providence, and revelation)".
In philosophy, scepticism refers more specifically to any one of several propositions. These include propositions about:
In philosophical skepticism, pyrrhonism is a position that refrains from making truth claims. A philosophical skeptic does not claim that truth is impossible (which would be a truth claim), instead it recommends "suspending belief". The label is commonly used to describe other philosophies which appear similar to philosophical skepticism, such as academic skepticism, an ancient variant of Platonism that claimed knowledge of truth was impossible. Empiricism is a closely related, but not identical, position to philosophical skepticism. Empiricists see empiricism as a pragmatic compromise between philosophical skepticism and nomothetic science; philosophical skepticism is in turn sometimes referred to as "radical empiricism."
Philosophical skepticism originated in ancient Greek philosophy. The Greek Sophists of the 5th century BC were for the most part skeptics. Pyrrhonism was a school of skepticism founded by Aenesidemus in the first century BC and recorded by Sextus Empiricus in the late 2nd century or early 3rd century AD. One of its first proponents was Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360-275 B.C.), who traveled and studied as far as India and propounded the adoption of "practical" skepticism. Subsequently, in the "New Academy" Arcesilaus (c. 315-241 B.C.) and Carneades (c. 213-129 B.C.) developed more theoretical perspectives, by which conceptions of absolute truth and falsity were refuted as uncertain. Carneades criticized the views of the Dogmatists, especially supporters of Stoicism, asserting that absolute certainty of knowledge is impossible. Sextus Empiricus (c. A.D. 200), the main authority for Greek skepticism, developed the position further, incorporating aspects of empiricism into the basis for asserting knowledge.
Greek skeptics criticized the Stoics, accusing them of dogmatism. For the skeptics, the logical mode of argument was untenable, as it relied on propositions which could not be said to be either true or false without relying on further propositions. This was the regress argument, whereby every proposition must rely on other propositions in order to maintain its validity (see the five tropes of Agrippa the Sceptic). In addition, the skeptics argued that two propositions could not rely on each other, as this would create a circular argument (as p implies q and q implies p). For the skeptics, such logic was thus an inadequate measure of truth and could create as many problems as it claimed to have solved. Truth was not, however, necessarily unobtainable, but rather an idea which did not yet exist in a pure form. Although skepticism was accused of denying the possibility of truth, in fact it appears to have mainly been a critical school which merely claimed that logicians had not discovered truth.
In Islamic philosophy, skepticism was established by Al-Ghazali (1058–1111), known in the West as "Algazel", as part of the Ash'ari school of Islamic theology, whose method of skepticism shares many similarities with Descartes' method.
René Descartes is credited for developing a global skepticism as a thought experiment in his attempt to find absolute certainty on which to base the foundation of his philosophy. Descartes discussed skeptical arguments from dreaming and radical deception. David Hume has also been described as a global skeptic. However, Descartes was not ostensibly a skeptic and developed his theory of an absolute certainty to disprove other skeptics who argued that there is no certainty.
Pierre Le Morvan (2011) has distinguished between three broad philosophical approaches to skepticism. The first he calls the "Foil Approach." According to the latter, skepticism is treated as a problem to be solved, or challenge to be met, or threat to be parried; skepticism's value on this view, insofar as it is deemed to have one, accrues from its role as a foil contrastively illuminating what is required for knowledge and justified belief. The second he calls the "Bypass Approach" according to which skepticism is bypassed as a central concern of epistemology. Le Morvan advocates a third approach—he dubs it the "Health Approach"--that explores when skepticism is healthy and when it is not, or when it is virtuous and when it is vicious.
A scientific (or empirical) skeptic is one who questions beliefs on the basis of scientific understanding. Most scientists, being scientific skeptics, test the reliability of certain kinds of claims by subjecting them to a systematic investigation using some form of the scientific method. As a result, a number of claims are considered "pseudoscience" if they are found to improperly apply or ignore the fundamental aspects of the scientific method. Scientific skepticism may discard beliefs pertaining to things outside perceivable observation and thus outside the realm of systematic, empirical falsifiability/testability.
Similarly to science where it can be used misleadingly and then becomes pseudoscience, scientific skepticism can also be acted many ways impoliticly if it just looks like skepticism but in fact it is pseudoskepticism.
Religious skepticism generally refers to doubting given religious beliefs or claims. Historically, religious skepticism can be traced back to Socrates, who doubted many religious claims of the time. Modern religious skepticism typically places more emphasis on scientific and historical methods or evidence, with Michael Shermer writing that it is a process for discovering the truth rather than blanket non-acceptance. For this reason, a religious skeptic may not believe that Jesus existed, or if he did, that he was not the messiah and did not perform miracles. Religious skepticism is not the same as atheism or agnosticism, though these often do involve skeptical attitudes toward religion and philosophical theology (for example, towards divine omnipotence). Religious people are generally skeptical about claims of other religions, at least when the two denominations conflict in some stated belief.
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