What Skepticism is Good For

February 12, 2013
Veritas Forum at the Claremont Colleges

This was one of the last presentations of Dallas's teaching career, and he was pleased to be able to address this topic. He wants us to ask questions and diligently seek truth. Skepticism, when properly applied, serves not just to question but to engage deeply with the truths we hold dear. "Skepticism is good for two main things: one is to undermine illegitimate claims to authority... A second thing is it initiates inquiry, it stimulates inquiry." True knowledge requires not just acceptance but rigorous scrutiny of the evidence before us.

Resources

What Skepticism is Good For

In the modern age, skepticism is equated with intelligence. What room is there for belief in the contemporary mind? Dallas discusses the usefulness and danger of doubt in our society. He eloquently unfolds the historical and practical significance of skepticism, explaining how it acts not only as a bulwark against illegitimate authority but also as a catalyst for inquiry and truth-seeking. 

What Skepticism is Good For

Highlights:

  • Purpose of Skepticism: Dallas begins by outlining the two main purposes of skepticism: to challenge illegitimate claims to authority and to stimulate inquiry, stressing its essential role in fostering a culture of questioning and intellectual freedom.
  • Truth and Its Complexity: Dallas discusses the nature of truth, emphasizing its simplicity in concept but complexity in application, particularly in academic settings where truth often becomes a contentious and avoided subject. "Truth is scary on our campuses today, and there are good reasons for it. But on the other hand, it's really impossible to stay away from truth because it is so central to life."
  • Link Between Knowledge and Authority: Highlighting the relationship between knowledge and authority, Dallas warns of the potential for knowledge claims to be used as tools of oppression, urging skepticism in evaluating such claims.
  • Power Dynamics: He explores how authority, when institutionalized, can drift from knowledgeable oversight to coercive power, often suppressing truth in favor of control.
  • Skepticism as Liberation: Dallas heralds skepticism as a liberating force historically used to challenge and dismantle oppressive authority, thereby fostering individual freedom and integrity.
  • Dangers of Extreme Skepticism: Dallas critiques extreme skepticism for its tendency to undermine meaningful inquiry, advocating instead for targeted skepticism that focuses on specific claims and seeks evidence-based conclusions. "Extreme skepticism simply denies there is any knowledge at all... it cannot be sustained in ordinary life.
  • Importance of Evidence and Logic: Dallas stresses the importance of evidence and logic in substantiating truths, countering both dogmatic skepticism and uncritical acceptance of beliefs."
  • Educational and Social Implications: Dallas calls for a revival of targeted skepticism within academic circles to enhance the pursuit of knowledge and truth, crucial for informed and responsible living.