The philosophical roots of scepticism

Connecting some more dots… It is almost a year since I published 3 posts on my old (disused) Earthy Issues blog (on the MyTelegraph website); and I believe they deserve being brought to the attention of a wider audience. They cover (1) the philosophical roots of scepticism; (2) the political misuse of scepticism; and (3) the psychological causes of denial (such as that Leon Festinger identified in people disappointed by false prophecies of the end of the World and/or their assumption into Heaven). Here then is the first of them: —————–

The philosophical roots of scepticism

The philosophical roots of scepticism lie in the 3rd Century BC; and the Greek philosopher Pyrrho, who saw scepticism as the logical end-point of intellectual inquiry. According to Pyrrho, the intellectually mature sceptic would still seek knowledge (because he or she “does not claim to know that truth cannot be found”); and would therefore be “prepared to investigate and evaluate any new argument in relation to any conclusion” [see Scepticism by Arne Naess (1968); pages 5-6]. It is self-evidently the case that climate change sceptics do not do this, and do not accept it when their alternative hypotheses are shown to be flawed. Unfortunately, exactly the same “catch-22 situation” has resulted in the ongoing failure of some people to accept that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was and is a complete fraud (hereinafter referred to as the PEZ problem). In his 1991 book Unnatural Doubts, Michael Williams focused on modern Cartesian scepticism (i.e. named after René Descartes), which proposes that “there is no such thing as knowledge of the external world” (1991: xii). Williams also suggested that the fundamental question regarding scepticism is whether doubts raised are “natural” or “intuitive”; or (as he cited Thompson Clarke as having put it) is the sceptic examining… “our most fundamental convictions [about the nature of reality] or the product of a large piece of [their own] theoretical philosophising about empirical knowledge…?” (ibid: 1). Clearly, climate change “sceptics” are doing the latter; because the fundamentals of the so-called “greenhouse effect” are not in dispute. What is questioned is the primacy of CO2 emissions as the cause of the changes we are witnessing; despite the repeated rebuttal of alternative explanations (i.e. due to the PEZ problem). In 1996, Timothy Fuller edited and posthumously published what he described as a summary of the thoughts of Michael Oakeshott [1901-1990] on modern politics and government (in The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Scepticism). In this book, scepticism is discussed as a political rather than philosophical entity; with the politics of faith and the politics of scepticism as two poles of political thought: Oakeshott equated the politics of faith with authoritarian control “for the purpose of achieving human perfection” [i.e. utopianism such as that of Karl Marx] (ibid: 24); and the politics of scepticism with government “detached from the pursuit of human perfection” [i.e. a utilitarian approach] (ibid: 31). Therefore, if Oakeshott’s dichotomy may be reduced to one of optimism (idealism) versus pessimism (realism), then climate change sceptics are clearly engaged in the politics of faith; in that they seek to maintain the optimistic belief that AGW is not a real problem. In 2002, Neil Gascoigne summarised the sceptical position as one that questions the reality of anything and everything we think we know (Scepticism p.1); and cited two arguments used by sceptics to generate doubts, namely (1) the “argument from ignorance” [e.g. we cannot prove we are not dreaming]; and (2) the “Agrippan argument” [e.g. a childish retort of “why” in response to any adult statement of fact] (ibid: 6). Although some climate change sceptics do this in a debating context, this is often to avoid confronting the reality of the weight of scientific evidence arrayed against them. This, in turn, often leads to the demand, based on either the ‘we are like Galileo’ or ‘marketplace of ideas’ fallacies, that their alternative explanations deserve equal consideration; even if they have been repeatedly shown to be erroneous elsewhere (i.e. the PEZ problem once again). Therefore, whereas blind faith and scepticism should be irreconcilable, in the context of thinking about ongoing anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), they are indistinguishable: The denial of human responsibility for what is happening to our climate is caused by cognitive dissonance and maintained by confirmation bias. However, just like all the other disinformation campaigns, I believe it is destined to fail; and the sooner the house of cards collapses the better it will be for all of us. ————– Record-breaking rainfall in the UK, unprecedented storms and temperatures in Washington DC, record-breaking droughts, floods, landslides, and bush-fires all around the world… Will the fake sceptics admit they are wrong when we see 1-in-100 year floods every 5 years? Or must we wait until they are an annual feature? Just how much longer must we wait for people to admit they are wrong; and that this is not normal? “There is none so blind as those who will not see” (Jeremiah 5:21)

People of the world, for God’s sake, please open your eyes!

The world may not be about to end but, are the signs that it is past its best not clear enough to see? This is not random weather; this is what happens when we ignore what scientists have been telling for over 150 years. Please Connect the Dots!


About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Cognitive Dissonance, Denial, Environment, Maketplace of Ideas, Philosophy, Psychology, Scepticism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The philosophical roots of scepticism

  1. Pingback: The political misuse of scepticism « Anthropocene Reality

  2. Pingback: The psychological causes of denial « Anthropocene Reality

  3. Pingback: Avoiding the catastrophe of indifference. « Learning from Dogs

  4. Pingback: Can we avoid the catastrophe of indifference? « Anthropocene Reality

  5. Pingback: On the Origin of the Specious by Means of Climate Scepticism… | Anthropocene Reality (PhD*)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s