Weaponized Agnosticism


It may seem odd in an era of “post-factualism” to question the value of skepticism. A commitment with proof and rules and facts (we won’t call it an obsession) seems like the perfect antidote to an epidemic of believe-it-yourself reality.

On the whole, skepticism is generally a good thing, and some people don’t possess enough of it. In its absolute purest form, however, skepticism is just another kind of denial — the ultimate denial, a denial of everything, the intellectual equivalent of a petulant four-year-old who demands you give reason after reason, none of which could possibly be satisfactory.

As with the child, there’s no final reply to the dogmatic skeptic, which is exactly what makes its weaponizers so slippery: no matter who they’re talking to, they can always claim the more open mind. (See Barry Stroud’s “The Significance of Philosophical Skepticism,” or any of a handful of other scholarly works on the subject.)

In as much as human beings don’t know everything, eventually we run out of facts and have to make do with uncertainty. Overcoming that takes risk, but these fellows are not — or tend not to be — explorers or artists or builders of theories. Their defining trait, as hoarders of fact, is that they take no leaps at all, indulge no folly that may later turn out to be true. They build fortresses of rules at every frontier and charge passage in the name of an empty-minded god.

A thoughtful skepticism is doubtful, not just of belief but of doubt itself.

art by Jason Murphy