Saturday, May 29, 2010
The difference between healthy and non-healthy scepticism
Originally, the sceptics were a class of philosophers in ancient Greece who refused to kowtow to the conventional wisdom of the day. Human nature has this way of lapsing into unreflective thinking, and so it could be argued that, initially at least, the sceptics provided a much needed public conscience. The Greek word skeptesthai means reflect, look or view. Not a bad quality to possess at all; in fact, from Socrates to the Middle Ages (and beyond in those circles which resisted the advent of modernism in philosophy), it formed the basis of dialectical reasoning. But the difference between the scholastic view and the postmodern view of scepticism is that for the scholastic, scepticism was a starting point in reasoning while for the postmodern thinker it is the terminus. All metaphysical questions—questions about moral value, the existence of God, the efficacy of the Church and so on—are, for the postmodern, unanswerable--or else already answered in the negative as a matter of principle. Anything not nailed down by the physical sciences is thus nothing more than opinion, since all criteria must, according to the postmodern project, be physically quantifiable.