Skepticism and knowledge
One of the greatest concerns on the topic of epistemology has been the correlation between skepticism and knowledge. To determine the correlation between the two terms, having a clear understanding of their definitions is essential. First, skepticism is defined as having a questioning attitude or behavior towards beliefs or opinions that, in most cases, are stated as facts. Skepticism can also refer to the doubt that an individual has regarding claims that are taken for granted by someone else or elsewhere. It is common for individuals to cast doubts on morality, religion, or the nature of knowledge. In the real sense, skepticism argues that human beings do not know what they think they do, and it questions the possibility of knowledge. The idea of skepticism has had several supporters, a renowned skeptic being Socrates, who claimed that the only knowledge he had was that he knew nothing with certainty. Descartes also supported skepticism by questioning how valid knowledge was, as well as looking for some facts that could not be refuted (DeRose, 1999). With the idea of skepticism, a person with a hand can refute the fact that he has a hand, and this is because he will refute the knowledge that indeed a part of his body is known as the hand. It is noticeable that skepticism and knowledge go hand in hand, and the latter can be defined as the familiarity, understanding, or being aware of the existence of someone or something, which includes but is not limited to facts, information, skills, and descriptions. In most cases, knowledge about something or someone can be acquired through experiences or an educational process by learning, discovering, or perceiving. As such, this paper seeks to determine whether skepticism enhances knowledge.
Development of thesis
As mentioned earlier, skepticism, as a concept, questions and raises doubts regarding the possibility of several things including knowledge. Funny enough, skeptics are known to raise even doubts on whether their senses are reliable or not (DeRose, 1999). It should be noted that the primary aim of skepticism is to demonstrate that in the real sense, human beings now very little or rather nothing of what they think they know. As such, when a person doubts the reality behind something’s or someone’s existence, his or her knowledge on the same is enhanced. On numerous occasions, when a person sees three chairs on a table and confirms that they are three, such arguments might be refuted by a skeptic, and this might force such a person to reexamine if indeed what he is referring to, are chairs or not. In the same vein, in arithmetic, a person may add the figure 2 to another 2 to come out with 5. In case a skeptic refutes such an answer, the person might be forced to reexamine and learn more about addition, and through this, his or her knowledge is enhanced.
Skepticism refutes arguments without basing on facts or reasoning, and thus, it has faced criticism from every corner. It is important to analyze how skepticism helps to enhance or improve a person’s knowledge on a particular perspective. For instance, when a person argues that he has two hands, then, there is no doubt that he has looked at himself and counted and at times recounted them. It is very absurd to object such as statement as skeptics always do. In such situations, skeptics might refute the arguments by questioning how a person knows he has two hands. It is imperative to note that the falseness of such a statement of having two hands is not a consequence of an enlightened skepticism, but a consequence of the fact that it makes no claims to knowledge (Williamson, 2005). As such, a skeptic’s denial of such a statement would force its proponent to defend it while making claims to knowledge. This would involve giving clear illustrations of what distinguishes hands from other parts of the body such as legs and head, and having clear knowledge and understanding of what the hands are. Through this, the deduction that skepticism helps to enhance knowledge remains true.
As seen above, there is no doubt that to enhance or improve a person’s knowledge on a particular phenomenon, what he or she already knows about the same must be doubted or refuted. In most cases, refuting or denying a person’s statement would force them to conduct research and collect more information on the same, and this, in the long run, would help to enhance or improve their knowledge on the same.
The argument that skepticism helps to enhance knowledge can be applied to the learning context. Agreeably, learners can make statements on particular perspectives, which they may believe are correct. Unless the claims made by learners on certain perspectives are not refuted or denied, their knowledge on the same in unlikely to improve (Stone, 2000). This is an insinuation that skepticism, despite its numerous weaknesses remains a crucial perspective that ought to be applied in every learning context as it helps to enhance knowledge.
Argument in support of and opposition to thesis
Several scholars are in support of the argument that skepticism helps to enhance knowledge, and one of them is DeRose (1999). DeRose (1999) argues that skepticism plays a crucial role in assuring people that they might not know what they think they know. The article gives an example where a person may claim that he or she has a hand without making a claim for knowledge. As such the article articulates that in such a situation, skepticism would pave the way for reasoning, which in the long run, would help enhance a person’s knowledge.
Williamson (2005) also supports the argument that skepticism can help enhance a person’s knowledge. William (2005) states that skepticism helps people detect errors in themselves, and this occurs when they suspend their strong belief in the proposition of at issue while assessing the truth or falsity of the issue based on their remaining beliefs and possibly any new beliefs that might come up during the investigation process. Essentially, the study opines that skepticism paves the way for the enhancement of knowledge on a phenomenon that has previously been denied or refuted. The study gives an example of an individual’s proposition that Toronto is the capital of Canada, which might be denied by a skeptic forcing the individual to conduct thorough research on the same, and in the long run, his or her knowledge on Canada’s capital might be enhanced.
Stone (2000) opposes the argument skepticism helps in the enhancement or improvement of knowledge. While opposing the claim, Stone (2000) argues that when a person makes a particular statement, then he or she must have reexamined it to determine whether it is false or not. This study gives an example that when a person makes a statement that there are three chairs a table, then he or she must have counted them, and thus, refuting such as fact is absurd. The study highlights that by stating that statements or utterances are false, skepticism just makes them weaker and does not in any way help to enhance knowledge.
Response to arguments
The validity of the above arguments on whether skepticism helps to enhance knowledge cannot be doubted. In the real sense, skepticism, where statements are refuted or denied, gives an individual to the chance reexamine his or her statements, thereby conducting research on the same so as to come up with irrefutable statements in the long run. The fact that a person has an opportunity to make a statement that can be fully supported with research helps in the enhancement of knowledge. However, the argument by Stone (2000) lacks validity as it does not mention how a person has knowledge about a phenomenon that he or she states.
Briefly, as discussed above, it is important to note that skepticism in one way or another is crucial in the enhancement of knowledge. It is also important to note that skepticism in itself is defined as having a questioning attitude or behavior towards beliefs or opinions that, in most cases, are stated as facts. Skepticism can also refer to the doubt that an individual has regarding claims that are taken for granted by someone else or elsewhere. As such, the underlying point is that denying, refuting, or having a questioning attitude towards opinions or statements makes a person who made such a statement to scrutinize and reexamine the same, and through this, his or her knowledge is enhanced.
DeRose, K. (1999). Responding to Skepticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stone, J. (2000). Skepticism as a Theory of Knowledge. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 60(3), 527-545.
Williamson, T. (2005). Knowledge and skepticism. The Oxford Handbook of Analytic Philosophy, Oxford.