Free «Forms of Skepticism» Essay Sample


There are various forms of skepticism in reference to human understanding. For example rationalists could be said to be skeptical on the possibility of pragmatic knowledge while on the other hand, not being skeptical to priori understanding. Alternatively, experimentalists could be said to be skeptical to the possibility of priori understanding but not skeptical to empirical understanding.

Views of traditional problems of philosophy can be said to be skeptical for example the problem with regard to the mind and induction. Methodological skepticism is an approach which places all knowledge claims and bases to test with the purpose of getting facts and false claims from that knowledge unlike Philosophical skepticism, a term that has been used to refer to the philosophical school of thought and a method that works in disciplines and cultures. It refutes the possibility of knowledge. This paper discusses Descartes skepticism as methodological and on the other hand explores Hume’s skepticism as more than methodological.


Any kind of philosophical skepticism originates from epistemology in human understanding. We tend to ask ourselves a question of whether skepticism about the external world actually exists or not. And if it exists, then in what form does it exist and how do we know about it? Descartes’ tried to address the issue about skepticism using his meditations and the methodic doubt. It is with this view that René is seen as exploring skepticism using a methodological skepticism perspective.

 In his fist meditation Descartes doubted about his existence. He doubted about the existence of his own body in reality. He doubted about the truth of his own beliefs. In trying to understand his existence, Descartes divided his method of inquiry of understanding human existence in to four major parts. He fist stated that a person should only accept information that he knows as truth. This is what he referred to as the first meditation (Descartes, Moriarty and Moriarty, 10).

The second meditation was to break down the truth in to simple parts. This was to help an individual to easily understand and investigate the facts about the information in question. The third meditation was to start investigating those parts of the information that were simple to understand then, to the hard ones. The last meditation was to doubt everything that one believed in so as to bring out the truth and the information that is false.

Descartes is said to be one of the famous representatives to methodological skepticism on the external world to date. He wanted to come up with a relevant basis with which he could prove that the foundation of scientific information was in the mind and not in the external world. His aim was not to prove that nothing exists, but to our knowledge to all that exists can be doubted. He stated therefore that if scientific knowledge originated from the external senses and not from the mind then the existence of the external world could be doubted. Rene used methods in every aspect trying to prove human understanding in relation to the world and the truth about everything that exists (Descartes, Moriarty and Moriarty, 1).

Descartes doubt of everything that exists including the outside world was a way of getting an assurance that our beliefs of what we hold to be truthful should be based on epistemology. In trying to prove this, he used the dream and the evil demon arguments. The main idea that he was trying to prove using these two concepts is that people do not recognize things found in the external world in a direct way but through the images of objects that is taken and processed in the human mind.  If this is the case then, sense perception does not give us the exact thing but a reflection of the thing which could not be the case. He expressed this clearly by using the quote “cogito ergo sum”. In order to solve the problem of not being sure whether the external world exists, René decided to use the concept of dualism with respect to the mind and body (Descartes, Moriarty and Moriarty, 67).

David Hume is also one of the philosophers that contributed to the field of skepticism. He wrote very good notes not only on skepticism but also empiricism. Skeptics present in the current world still use ideas and concepts from Hume’s work when giving their own criticism on other skeptics’ arguments and works.

David Hume once had a quote that said “does a man sense and run after every silly tale of hobgoblins or fairies. Does he canvas the evidence particularly? He never knew anyone who scrutinized and premeditated about nonsense hat he did not believe before the end of his inquiries” (Hume, 123).

David Hume was addressing one question in the above quote. Why should people spent their time and energy to investigate and examine beliefs that people hold? To him it was not important to question the fact and truth of everything that exists. There are things that should not be looked at deeply because they seem ridiculous or just because we are able to investigate every existence around us.

David Hume was more than a methodological skeptic as seen from his works, views and arguments.  He stated that although we don’t question the belief attached to the existence of things or the disbelief of their existence, it still has a consequence on our social lives.

David Hume argued that a sane person could deliberate on some thing that is nonsensical without believing in it. To him, all these depended on the context in which this was being applied and the thing in question. He proposed that people should not go investigating every story or happening that they hear or perceive but at the same time the things that are not a must to be investigated are not so irrelevant as not to cause some consequences on individuals and to the external world (Hume, 155).

David Hume had a quote in his book (concern of human understanding, section 9) where he wrote “"But our wonder will perhaps cease or diminish when we consider that the experimental (experiential) reasoning itself, which we possess in common with beasts, and on which the whole of conduct depends, is nothing but a species of instinct or mechanical power that acts in us unknown to ourselves, and in its chief operations is not directed by any such relations or comparison of ideas as are the proper objects of our intellectual faculties.”

According to Hume, “there are reasons for the formation of inquiries into some things that we do not comprehend”. At the same time though, he felt that we should not use this premise to investigate everything even that which is so obvious to us.

Some philosophers argued against Hume stating that his views are overrated and stated that there is a possibility that a person cannot premeditate on some thing that is nonsensical without believing in that thing. Thus to Hume it is unrealistic and irrelevant to investigate on some silly issues to try and get the truth, fact or importance in it then if it is not what it was expected letting people know what the investigation was all about.

David Hume is seen to be arguing against René Descartes sentiments about skepticism and how it should be handled. To him man was not a rational thinking being as René had put it to be. To René god was in existence through our thoughts and rationalization but to Hume all knowledge that we posses originates from our experiences with the outside world driven y our instincts and senses (Hume, 164).

In reference to inhuman beings, Hume compared them to animals. He argued that like animals, people don’t need to use their minds, he said that people learn through experience and from what they have learnt; they infer that those events that have been learnt will always occur or happen in the same function as it did before. Through this, people become accustomed to things in the external world. To Hume then, a child learns to appreciate the existence of properties in the external world as he grows up through learning (Hume, 170).

He stated that when people are younger they are stronger but when they grow up, they become cunning. This he said was as a result of growing old. As an animal and a human being grows, they get to posses more knowledge about the external world. All the knowledge gained from experience and age is not attributed to reason but to instincts.


Rene gave us a more reliable way of going about the issue of skepticism as opposed to Hume. At least to René human beings use their brains which control their instincts and we can apply his methods of inquiry to our situation to a certain extent. Hume on the other hand had some truth in his argument about knowledge being attributed to experience. However, he made it appear as if human beings do not use their brains and that they are like other animals something which is not true. Both of them did not give a definite answer to skepticism about the external world but just gave an insight to it.


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