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Thursday, 12 March 2009

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.


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4 comments:

Wade G. Burck said...

Jamie,
"cowardly cop-out mental masturbation!!!!" Haven't we become the silver-tongued devil. Is that yours, or is it something Freud coined, and you have borrowed it. LOL Classic.
Wade Burck

Jamie Clubb said...

A bit of an outburst I must admit ;)No, as far I know that was all mine! I think that saying everything is a conspiracy every time a conspiracy theory is debunked on a single case or saying that we all live in the Matrix and nothing is real is a bit like the kid you says "It's my ball and I'm going home!" That one isn't mine by the way.

Wade G. Burck said...

Jamie,
No explanation or apology necessary. I've always said, "if your are going to meltdown, make sure you meltdown colorful. It is what distinguishes philosopher's from whiner's. LOL As for a debunked conspiracy theory, being proof that every thing is a conspiracy, some people just want to believe the moon is made out of cheese, nothing will sway them from that belief. I believe it give's them a sense if importance/value. They will always be needed, as "the other side of the coin." The kid who takes his bat and ball home, may feel he is the superior ball player because he owns the the equipment. I would suggest the one's who stayed and made a ball game with a stick and a wad of duct tape, were the superior athletes. As well as innovators and leaders. One proved he could take the ball and bat home, and the others proved they didn't need them.
Wade

Jamie Clubb said...

Great analogies, Wade, and I agree again. I particularly like the "stick and a wad duct tape" one. It sums up "bleeding edge" mentality altogether. Just think of Galileo not only did he have a massive burden of proof to take in the face of extreme prejudice, but was also having to create his own equipment in order to catch up with his ambitions!

Every one has a right to opinion, no matter how utterly absurd, thoroughly debunked or outmoded. But I think we need levels regarding who qualifies for a side of the coin. Einstein and Newton's representative going at it in the early 19th century regarding Mercury's orbit is an even contest. An experienced animal behaviourialist with years of hands-on experience working directly with animals with proven results arguing a case against an equally experienced circus animal trainer can be an even contest. However, an astrologist versus an anstronomer is not going to produce any decent results. Likewise, an animal rightist versus an animal welfarist isn't a productive contest. The reason being is that in both instances one deals with belief/opinion and the other with facts/evidence.