Skepticism: A Discussion

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final paper for my philosophy class.

Submitted: May 10, 2008

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Submitted: May 10, 2008

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Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
Skepticism
A Discussion
 
 Myles Tandy
5/5/2008
 
 
 
 


 

I. Overview

II. Skepticism in everyday life

  III. Agnosticism and Atheism

 IV. Instant Truth

  V. Appropriate skepticism

 VI. Negatives of Skepticism

  VII. Conclusion and final thoughts

 
I. Overview
Skepticism runs rampant in modern American society, but does anyone know why we’re so skeptical of everything? Is there a real use for being so skeptical? Of course there is, but should we be skeptical of everything, absolutely not.Government, for example, we should be skeptical of, and were once taught that we should be.In fact, it is our right as American citizens to be skeptical of our government.Sadly, government seems to be, more and more, something people trust blindly to do its job, when they really should be scrutinizing everything the government does.
Another fine example is advertising.People let advertising roll right by them without making any conscious effort to discern whether the message is positive or negative, whether it was necessary or not.People just let them fly by, unaware that they are designed to get into your subconscious.
 
 
There are times when we should not be so critical and skeptical all the time.Everyday conversation, for example, is a time when we should keep an open mind and listen.I won’t say that we should blindly accept any and all information a friend tells you just because it’s your friend and not your president, but you should certainly keep an open mind to what they say to you.
II. Skepticism in everyday life
There are times in every single day of your life that you will inevitably find yourself being skeptical.Whether it is questioning the validity of a statement that a peer, colleague, or professor made, or it is wondering if the cafeteria fare meets legal standards to be considered food grade and edible, you are being critical and skeptical of something.In most instances, these everyday moments of skepticism are absolutely fine, and usually warranted.
Often, conversations in classes with professors and classmates, as well as the interactions of yourself and your peers, will inherently lead to skepticism about one topic or another; it is natural, and usually unavoidable, as well as absolutely healthy.It is totally normal, and good for personal relationships to be critical of one another.If everyone had the same opinions on everything, communication would die.This of course means that, as well as being critical of the ideas of others, we must open ourselves up to the criticisms of others, otherwise, relationships crumble, and communication again dies.
Conversely, it is important to know when skepticism is neither warranted, nor needed.As stated above, this principle of fair criticism applies to your peers.If you went, for example, to see a play at an elementary school, and the performance was lacking, it is not the time or place for critical analysis and criticism; it would simply be inappropriate.Exercise restraint about jumping down people’s throats about everything they say.There are students, who will remain nameless, who have a comment or criticism about everything the professor says, and it is absolutely unbearable.Be careful not to be a nuisance.
In all cases, whether you agree with what is said or done or not, common courtesy must apply regardless of the situation.Remember the Golden Rule that you learned when you were young: Treat others as you would like to be treated.
III. Agnosticism and Atheism
Religion is a very hard topic to discuss much of the time due to the nature of the thing, so I would like to make very clear that I intend no insult to any religion, faith, or following.When talking about the hyper-religious (those who believe everything that they are taught in church, and everything that they read in whatever holy book they may use immediately), inevitably, your mind will eventually wander to the opposite end of the spectrum, Atheism and Agnosticism.
Agnosticism is not committing to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god[1].The fundamental premise of Agnosticism is not committing to faith because of being openly skeptical of the ideas of religion and the construct that we call God, often because of fear of what may be “out there” in terms of a higher power.Other times it is simply a matter of convenience to call yourself Agnostic because you don’t have the time or interest to find out about other religions.Whatever the case, it is very rare that you meet someone who claims to be Agnostic that has chosen to be so because they researched other choices and ideas, and found being non-committal to be the best or most logical choice.As far as I am concerned, Agnosticism is a cop-out to get out of having to research and settle on something, which is a huge problem, in this country especially.
Atheism, on the other hand, is a legitimate belief system that I respect, for the most part, assuming it is founded intelligently.Atheism is the disbelief in the existence of a deity.[2] Atheism is, by nature, pure skepticism in practice.Atheists are such because they are skeptical of religion and belief in a deity of any kind; basically, they are wary of unsubstantiated claims and beliefs of a higher power.While I myself am not an Atheist (I do not classify myself under one religion, although you could most closely associate me to Hinduism), I certainly understand and respect the belief, or rather, non-belief system that they follow.
I grew up with an Atheist in my home (my father) so I learned at an early age to accept that not all people accept the idea of any type of creator being. The way my father explained it was thus: “I have never seen, felt, or otherwise been affected by the touch of a grand creator, therefore it is perfectly ok for me to believe that there is no such higher power.” I accept this as a perfectly logical way of being. Unlike Agnosticism, which is based entirely on non-committal skepticism, Atheism is founded on a researched and thought out absence of faith. 
IV. Instant Truth
Over the course of the year, through classroom discussions, private discourses, and my own ponderings, I have come up with an interesting question/concept; Instant Truth.First, I pose a question: why do we, as humans, automatically reject any new, differing opinion as false, while assuming that our own knowledge is superior? When did this happen? There was a time when people listened to each other, spending hours having intellectual discourses on politics, philosophy, and religion. This day in age, mentioning any of those three topics is like asking for a fight. Everything is so personal now, it is impossible for, on an average day, anyone person to approach another on the street and expect to be able to voice an opinion without meeting with resistance, usually due to some deeper inner conflict. As the Beatles once said; “Everybody’s got something to hide except me and my monkey,” and even then, we all know that John Lennon had a lot to hide. 
I believe that people should be able to accept certain things on faith of character and the person’s education, without fighting about it, or having to go research for hours just to prove the person wrong. I call this idea Instant Truth.Assuming that we are following this mindset, a person would be able to trust another person not to purposely misinform them.And should they find that the information which they received to be false, they would not overreact, but instead calmly inform the person of their mistake at the next available chance, at which point both parties have become more knowledgeable. That is the idea of instant truth, to gain knowledge and stem the tide of petty arguments.
It is my belief that, if we taught this way of life to our children, eventually we could regain the intelligent society of the days of the Philosopher Kings.Reading the works of classical antiquity, we learn how the people spent hours teaching and learning, without bickering more than slightly over the legitimacy of certain claims. And when one person could prove a point easier and more definitively than the rest, it was settled.Just look at Plato’s Republic; it is an ideal example of how things used to be. Accepting that it is written by Plato as a dialogue, and therefore caters to Plato’s needs and belief’s, it is still a fairly accurate picture of the philosophers and scholars of the day. Since the dark ages began, there has never been a heyday like that, and I believe that if we try to live by this philosophy, we can re-achieve this intellectual state of being, all we have to do is truly try. 
V. Appropriate skepticism
There are times when skepticism is appropriate, and should be a part of life. The best example I can give is the government. As American citizens, it is our right and duty to be skeptical of the government. It is in fact written in the constitution as one of our rights to throw out and replace the current governmental structure if it is no longer working, or to rebel against the system if it becomes too powerful and refuses to stop its actions. Therefore, if you are blindly following government, you are not fulfilling your duty as a citizen of this country. Sadly, it has become increasingly true that people turn a blind eye to their government’s actions instead of putting a stop to certain heinous acts. The President made remarks about seriously shifting more of the government’s power onto him (effectively negating the system of checks and balances) and there was barely a voice heard on the matter.But as soon as someone’s own personal ideas are challenged, all hell breaks loose. It truly scares me. 
Another place where it is beneficial to be skeptical is in the classroom. I realize that most of us were taught very young to listen to everything your teachers had to say, but hopefully it’s become clear that, as we progress past basic addition and reading, teachers can and will be wrong more often than they’d like to admit. The farther you progress into an education, the harder the material is to grasp, and the more likely a teacher is incorrect. As a student who relies on the teacher to instruct you and give you knowledge for life, you have every right in the world to question a teacher if you think what they said is incorrect in part or whole. Often, teachers will be pleased if you catch a mistake because it means you are actively engaged in the class and the material.
VI. Negatives of Skepticism
While skepticism can be very important at certain times, there are most certainly negatives that will come with it if you are overly skeptical at the wrong time. There are just some times when it is inappropriate, as discussed earlier, and those times will very likely yield an unwanted result.Many people will immediately resist your skepticism and start a verbal argument with you, trying to shoot you down before you can make a case, and will often not offer a defense of their own opinion. Sometimes, but not all too often, people will move from the verbal conflict, to the physical.
In addition to person to person issues, if you are persistently attacking people’s ideas and opinions, you will start to get a reputation as opinionated, stuck up, or otherwise unbearable. People will often avoid being around you, talk behind your back, and treat you shabbily. 
Therefore, it is generally wise to keep from overdoing things with skepticism. It can be useful sometimes to be critical of things, but overdoing it, just like anything else, is just as bad as accepting everything blindly. 
VIII. Conclusion/Wrap Up
Overall, skepticism is a useful tool when employed properly. It can be used to gain information and discern the truth in a situation where the legitimacy of a claim is murky. However, there are most defiantly times when being openly critical of certain things is simply inappropriate. It is clear to me that fear of what will happen if they speak out against an unjust government has forced the masses to blindly follow a leader they don’t believe in. Through that fear, it has become increasingly normal to fear being skeptical all together. This is an unfortunate truth that should be rectified as soon as possible before we slide further into what will surely become a dictatorship. 


[1] As defined by Merriam-Webster <http://www.merriam-webster.com>
[2] As defined by Merriam-Webster <http://www.merriam-webster.com>


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