Recently I was prompted to post up my notes on my modern definitions of cynicism, pseudoscepticism, ancient scepticism and modern scepticism. They are virtually unedited, completely unbalanced and taken straight out of an email conversation. I also admit them to being partial as there is a lot more I could have added. However, seeing that more people I am in contact with have taken some interest in the scepticism and what is often meant by the term I thought I'd best share it here. For the record, this is not a sceptical blog, although I am an unashamed modern sceptic and individualist.
Cynic = A person who always assumes worst in everything. Varies from a Samuel Beckett or Phillip Larkin (both who I enjoy reading) pessimist to someone who has a generally nihilistic view on life and an irrational capacity to seeing the worst in everything. It’s a position that should be avoided, but we all have it in us in some form.
Pseudosceptic = Teenage syndrome! In short, those who attack something that has the biggest body of evidence, but refuses to accept the burden of proof. Some are controversial for the sake of being controversial whereas others are your typical confirmation bias conspiracists etc.
Ancient scepticism = I can’t pretend I have a large amount of knowledge on this subject, but from what I can gather this form of scepticism started off with very good intentions – like today’s modern version – but ended up becoming very much like the pseudosceptics. Advocators of this traditional form of scepticism ended up posing improvable academia like “Prove that the world wasn’t created five minutes ago and we arrived with all our memories intact” or “Everything is just a figment of our imagination”. This is where my prejudice may come in, but at its worst I see this as cowardly cop-out mental masturbation. It’s the sort of nonsense I loathe in martial arts - “Ah but in a real situation I would do this and you wouldn’t do that”. If we can’t replicate it, test it or see workable examples to support the hypothesis aside from “philosophical evidence” (there’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever seen one) then it doesn’t warrant an equal oppositional argument. It’s the same sort of thinking that con-theos or conspiracists use when all their arguments have been debunked by hard evidence – “Everything is a conspiracy!”
See a description George Edward Moore' s philosophical argument against traditional scepticism and the case for "common sense": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Here_is_a_hand
Modern sceptic = Not to be confused with the ancient Greek school of philosophy, which many do. I think the modern sceptic at his best is a hard rational thinker with a genuine open mind. He accepts facts as “temporary conclusions with the biggest body evidence”. He doesn’t accept absolutes, but will go where the evidence is strongest and continually tests and questions with logic. Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, Lister, Jenner and Einstein all questioned the prevailing opinion of their times, but they did so with hard data and compelling evidence. They took their burden of proof and were willing to prove their ideas. What I love most about these examples is that they didn’t do it through force of personality – often the staple tactic of religions, cults and philosophies – but through ideas that could be proven the world over by similarly educated individuals.