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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Mailvox: exposing the false skeptic

R. Scott Bakker asks why I believe his skepticism is nothing more than a pose:
And what is ‘faux’ about my skepticism?
That’s a fair question. I can count seven reasons right off the bat, but it’s hardly a comprehensive list.

1. His skepticism predominantly runs in one direction. This indicates that he isn't actually a skeptic, he is merely using skeptical tactics as a tool in service to his dogma, his very conventional left-liberal dogma. When he talks about the “need” to challenge those who are certain of various things and the danger their certainty presents, he openly demonstrates his anti-skepticism.

2. He does not construct his arguments on the basis of what other people hold to be true. For example, when he has taken exception to what I have written, he does not exclusively utilize my beliefs, convictions, and assumptions, but instead attempts to criticize them on the basis of his own first-order beliefs. Again, he's showing that he is a dogmatist, using dogmatic dialectic, not a skeptic using skeptical dialectic.

3. He makes absolutely no attempt to reach suspension of judgment. Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact, he repeatedly attempts to judge his interlocutors and place himself in an assumed position of superiority vis-a-vis them. I presume this is why he fears to engage in an actual debate, as opposed to his usual sniping and empty posturing.

4. He does not place competing dogmas in opposition to each other, but rather, attempts to change the discussion to a nonsensical one concerning second-order beliefs. He doesn't seem to understand that repeatedly asking “why?” and “but how do you know that you know?” is a childish tactic, not a skeptical one.

5. He observably possess little imperturbability or tranquility. By this metric, even I am far more of a skeptic than he will ever be. I can only think of a few authors who are more sensitive and more prone to getting upset over perceived criticism than The Prince of Wängst. That's how he earned the title in the first place!

6. He assents to many things that are unknown. His confessed faith in science, for example, is profoundly unskeptical.

7. He does not pay any observable heed to nature or the tradition of laws and customs. In fact, he even uses his faux skepticism as an excuse to attack traditional laws and customs as well as those who hold to them.

UPDATE - Cornucopia makes some fascinating admissions concerning the supposed skepticism of the Three Pound Brain gang:
I don’t know of anyone here who has used skepticism in such a way as “we cannot know for sure that water boils at 100 deg.” If that is actually true, nobody here really gives a damn. As far as I now it’s usually limited to categories of moral certainty and things like that, where skepticism may really could have an impact for the better. There’s the Hitler example and the Breivik example. What good might have come if these men had continued to second guess themselves and not convinced themselves they were sure of what they believed?

Maybe you’re generalizing a little too much, in which case I can see why a lot of what’s been said might seem hypocritical. True, a lot of people here are probably to the left of center, which by Phrrhonism standards is probably an off limits opinion. Oh well.
While it may be true that no one there uses skepticism in such a way, all that objection serves to do is prove my point that no one there is a philosophical skeptic. The attempt to limit skepticism to the categories "of moral certainty and things like that" is precisely why I am both mocking the TPB gang for its intellectual incoherence and condemning it for its intellectual dishonesty. There is absolutely no basis in skeptical philosophy for anyone to attempt to limit its scope to the realm of morality; the very idea that “skepticism may really have an impact for the better” on phenomena is itself intrinsically anti-skeptical! Cornucopia is admitting exactly what I accused Scott of doing: utilizing the pretense of skepticism in service of his own dogma.

He brings up two examples, Hitler and Breivik, and asks what good might have come of it if either man had been less sure of himself. Conversely, what if the Wehrmacht generals possessed more certainty, stopped second guessing themselves, and deposed Hitler before the Austrian Anschluss? That would have brought about precisely the same hypothetical good… never mind that preventing World War II and the Holocaust cannot be considered by the skeptic to be an abstract good in the first place. And what if the Norwegian left had been less certain about the good of multiculturalism and not permitted massive third world immigration? That, even more definitely than uncertainty on Breivik's part, would have prevented the slaughter on Utoya island.

Does everyone see what I did there? That is actual skepticism at work. Balancing two ideas that are opposed to each other and thus reaching suspension of judgment. Philosophical skepticism isn’t something that one can simply apply here and there as one wishes to attack someone else’s beliefs. It’s a system, even an agōgē, if we are to believe Delavagus. What Cornucopia and Scott are advocating isn’t merely dogmatic, anti-skeptical, and incoherent, it’s also dishonest and intellectually reprehensible.

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