Guest Post: Methodological Skepticism by Zigmund Reichenbach of All My Small Thoughts

Statue of a man thinking

Skepticism comes in a variety of styles and flavors. Some prefer the nihilistic variety, others prefer playing skeptical troll.

But fortunately for us, there’s a better kind of skepticism.

One that we can use to:

1. Uplift others
2. Make conversation
3. Become more intelligent in the process.

This variety of skepticism will be known as “methodological skepticism” (a distinction borrowed from scholar Michael Forster).

Scholar Michael Forester

This skepticism relies on a Greek concept called “equipollence” meaning “equal force on both sides” as it pertains to making arguments.

And we can use this form of skepticism in a very “judicial” manner–meaning we can use to build up the arguments of our “opponents,” test our arguments against this “iron man”–for strawmen are intentionally weak arguments designed to set us up for moral grandstanding–and see which argument wins.

This is what judges do, have done, and will continue to do by setting “into opposition equally strong propositions or arguments on both sides of any issue which arises.”

And this “philosophy” was developed by the first great “skeptic” Sextus Empiricus.

His goal–again to reiterate–is to use the skeptic system “to [oppose] every
proposition/argument (logos an equal proposition/argument (logos)” because skeptics “believe that as a consequence of this we end by ceasing to dogmatize.”

So as far as reason goes this point of view, this method, this way of thinking–is more or less correct . . . not in the sense of just creating dialogues or conversations where one is “right” or the other is “wrong.”

Which is important. We can use this advanced version of the “Socratic method” to help us add weight and heft to our opinions.

Just as Lady Justice would have us do. Because after all Lady Justice is the most easily
recognizable symbol for the practice of law in world history.

Lady Justice holding the scales of justice

And for good reason. Not only is Lady Justice blindfolded–we can interpret her scales to be measures of opinion–who determines the value of which by intellectual “weight.”

Having said that let’s go back to the method–our goal is to increase the “weight” of our
arguments by building up the weight of others’ arguments into what I’ve called an “iron man.”

Hence we can use skepticism–methodological skepticism–to do good, become more just, and reasonable . . . but only if we can make ourselves charitable to those who claim to oppose us.

*Much of this work was inspired by Michael Forster. Support his research–if you can–by buying his spectacular book on Hegel’s take on skepticism, Hegel and Skepticism. I’ve cited a bit on this page from his work — but this isn’t a peer reviewed journal, so I didn’t provide page numbers. Read the book yourself!

Zigmund Reichenbach is the owner/operator of All My Small Thoughts, a blog devoted to his writings on philosophy. Zigmund posts both academic papers he has submitted for publication, as well as pieces written specifically for his blog.

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