They say you should write about what you know. Seeing as I know nothing though, I thought a good place to start would be a guide to better scepticism. By scepticism here I mean scepticism in the sense that most in the sceptic community use the term. Rather than in the sense of Radical Scepticism. So, something closer to applying confidence to claims than to doubting that knowledge is even possible. Articles, and videos, in the series will discuss topics like Cartesian Scepticism and other forms of Radical Scepticism though. Understanding these topics and what they argue can help us to be better sceptics. As does exploring and understanding the various thought experiments involved in Radical Scepticism.
One of the reasons I’m motivated to make this series of articles and videos is the bad scepticism and critical thinking I see in the sceptic/atheist community. Not only is scepticism and critical thinking important to me. It’s something that others in the community claim is important to them. Yet there’s seems to be little in the way of promoting good scepticism, and good critical thinking, within the community. For many it suffices to simply call oneself a sceptic or a critical thinking. Their scepticism and critical thinking ends with demands for evidence and doubting others. However, scepticism and critical thinking is not just about making demands of others, but making demands of ourselves.
There is a lot of arrogance on display from many in the sceptic and atheist community when it comes to what people claim to know. With their arrogance is often being misplaced. Many sceptics and atheists are completely convinced they know some particular fact. And often that particular fact is simply incorrect. Yet, they refuse to explore the idea that they could be wrong. Displaying both bad scepticism and bad critical thinking. I am hoping that this series of articles and videos might help change that trend. Though I am doubtful, as those very same self-proclaimed sceptics that are arrogant about what they claim to know, will dismiss something like this. Which brings us to any important trait for good scepticism and good critical thinking, Epistemic Humility.
Epistemic Humility is an important trait when it comes to good scepticism, as well as being a better sceptic. It also shouldn’t be that difficult of a trait for a sceptic to adopt. Especially when we consider some of the ‘mottos’ that many sceptics espouse. Statements such as the following:
– ‘We should never claim to know things with 100% certainty’
– ‘I love being shown that I’m wrong, that way I have learned something new’
– ‘I could be wrong about what I think I know, so I keep an open mind’
Each of these ‘mottos’ describes a sense of Epistemic Humility. There is much literature on the idea of Epistemic Humility for those of you who want to look into it. But for our purposes here a basic explanation of it will suffice. Epistemic Humility is the understanding that our experiences are limited, and our knowledge is filtered through our experiences. This means that our understandings and knowledge are also limited. As our understandings and knowledge are limited, we should remind humble about what we claim about them. There are others who may have a greater amount of understanding and knowledge than we do based on their experiences. As such, we should remain open to being wrong. Even about those things we consider ourselves to have a great amount of knowledge on.
Believe as Few False Things as Possible
Consider the following statement:
– ‘I want to believe as many true things as possible, and as few false things as possible’
This is another oft promoted statement from those within the sceptic community, including people like Aron Ra and Matt Dillahunty. As one could imagine, Epistemic Humility is an important factor in following this ideal. If we believe that we already know everything about a topic, and we cannot be wrong about it, then how can we ever learn that we hold a false belief? It also means that a statement ‘I love being shown that I’m wrong, because then I learn something new’ can never be fulfilled. After all, if we believe we cannot be wrong, then how can we be shown that we are wrong?
Of course, having Epistemic Humility does not necessarily mean that we must remain epistemically humble in all cases. There are times when it is reasonable to dismiss certain claims, arguments, and even people without assuming that what they argue might be correct. Such as a YEC arguing that the Earth is 6,000 years old. This does not appear to be something that we should consider that we could be wrong about. There are many such examples. However, if all of our information simply comes from people that we’ve heard say about a topic, or some popular claim within the community we exist in, or it is a subject we have never really studied, then adopting a stance of Epistemic Humility seems like something we, if we want to be better sceptics anyway, should do.
There will be more on this later in the series when we discuss the value of sources of information. Looking at the trustworthiness of those we get information from, being selective about our sources of information, and more. For now, though, starting with the practicing of Epistemic Humility is enough to begin a journey of better scepticism. As well as better critical thinking of course!
Epistemic Humility is something that we should begin to practice as soon as possible. If we want to be good sceptics anyway. It should become dispositional, a part of who we are and how we approach the world. It is an intellectual virtue, and something we should be striving for as a sceptic. In the next article/video in this series, I will be discussing Cartesian Scepticism. A slightly more radical form of scepticism than most in the sceptic community are used to. There are some important, and very useful, lessons and elements that can be taken from it.