I'm a bit taken by Nietzsche's philosophical skepticism, which is skeptical even of scientific knowledge. I've come to believe that the more rigorous you are in your thinking, the more skeptical you must become.

But has philosophical skepticism died out or are there notable proponents since Nietzsche?

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    In "modern time" is more easy to find a relativistic attitude, also towards scientific knowledge (see : Paul Feyerabend) more than a skeptic one : "Relativism is not skepticism. Skepticism superficially resembles relativism, because they both doubt absolute notions of truth. However, whereas skeptics go on to doubt all notions of truth, relativists replace absolute truth with a positive theory of many equally valid relative truths." Sep 11, 2014 at 16:25
  • maybe nietzscheans ?
    – user6917
    Sep 11, 2014 at 19:18
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    Well, Nietzsche has never struck me as displaying rigor, at least not in his published works: he is happy to employ practically every rhetorical trick to make a point (except write down a formal logical argument), regardless of logical soundness. Thought-provoking and insightful do not equal rigorous. Also, I think that if you are uniformly rigorous in your thinking you end up needing to account for Moore's "here is one hand" rhetoric, and end up seriously doubting that either skepticism or relativism adequately accounts for everyday experience.
    – Rex Kerr
    Sep 12, 2014 at 19:57
  • We could debate Nietzsche, but it is at least arguable that he is rigorous in his conclusions, but this isn't the same as displaying rigor. He found it anti-rhetorical to write at least in published works logical arguments without enthymemes, or to belabor trivial points or assumed knowledge. He criticized the style of Spinoza, for example, that the need to spell out every premise and definition implies that one is used to, and expects, mistrust and suspicion. In any case, it doesn't seem that even the most pedantic logical form does much to remove confusions and ambiguities. Sep 12, 2014 at 20:36
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    I think the first comment is correct. I would just add that philosophizing skepticism rather than producing a skeptical philosophy is the norm. This is usually done relative to ideology rather than a particular philosophy of science or epistemology, e.g. why people are skeptical of global warming is a preoccupation of Bruno Latour while Zizek has been looking at the phenomenon of "skeptical fundamentalism" which can be defined as an operational but deferred or disavowed belief. Finally, I would say realism has largely replaced skepticism in terms of a rigorous epistemology. Sep 15, 2014 at 1:18

3 Answers 3


After a quick search for skepticism it seems that the term is heavily peroidized, referring to the school of Pyrrhonism in the 1st BC its subsequent rediscovery in the 17th century. So it seems there aren't really any contemporary philosophical skeptics (although in some abstracts of papers on skepticism I found Marx and Derrida came up). Its possible the term has degraded since skepticism is usually supplemented with some sort of empiricism or realism and where it isn't it typically manifests as nihilism.

I've become rather hesitant to define François Laruelle's non-philosophy since I don't want to misrepresent it but I will offer it here as the most contemporary thinking through of the implications of what you called Nietzsche's philosophical skepticism (although I would define Nietzsche's project more as an anti-philosophy).

One of the basic gestures of non-philosophy is to critique the notion of thought's "sufficiency" to comprehend and conceptualize reality (the "Real"). Put in overly simplistic terms, it posits that the Real is foreclosed to thought and is thus unphilosophizable. The only way it becomes philosophizable or conceptualizable is if it is "decided" which is the inaugurating gesture of all systematic philosophies. I won't go on from there but you can see how it takes up the themes of certain skeptical philosophies.

The most representative work is Philosophie Non-Standard which sadly remains untranslated but The Principles of Non-Philosophy was recently translated into English and is considered the most advanced presentation of Laruelle's thought.

Deleuze and Guattari are also a good place to look for philosophers taking up the style and thematics of Nietzsche (although this can be said of most of the French theory that emerged in the late 60's) but are hardly as readable. If you are feeling more poetic, I would look into E.M. Cioran. In terms of a contemporary "rigorous" empirical skepticism, there is no one better than Wittgenstein. If you want to go back to the historical manifestations of skepticism with some contemporary commentary, Richard H. Popkin looks like a good place to start (though I haven't read him myself).

  • Thank you. I just wanted to add Academic Skepticism as another ancient school of skepticism. I wanted to say that Wittgenstein should be included, but doesn't he consider natural science somehow excepted from his critiques of philosophy? Sep 15, 2014 at 3:04

Peter Unger is one of the more serious proponents of contemporary scepticism about knowledge , i.e. the thesis that (necessarily) nobody ever knows that anything is so.

His main argument for scepticism runs as follows (each claim is to read as preceded by the necessity operator): If someone, x, knows that p, then it is alright for x to be certain that p. It is never alright for x to be certain that p. So, x never knows that p.

For Unger's defense of this argument and more on his position see Unger's monograph Ignorance.


Since another (Peter) Unger was mentioned before and I want to counter the impression that critical theory is the only game in town, here is a quote from Roberto Mangabeira Unger (from The Self Awakened) where he expresses skepticism opposite the idea that we can arrive at correct understanding of what goes on at far reaches in space or far distances in time:

This [scientific] investigation carries us to orders and magnitudes of reality far removed from the setting of human life in which imagination can remain wedded to action. Now inquiry leaves action far behind, and with this overreaching begins to draw pictures of the world that no longer remain in communion with our experience of manifest reality. Or it remains in such communion only be conjecturing a long series of links between those pictures and this experience, explaining, at the end of the chain of conjecture and experiment, how we can perceive the world one way when it is in fact another way.

As far as I can tell he is skeptical of naturalism, i.e. also "skeptical even of scientific knowledge" (e.g. the idea that laws of physics never change). I don't think there is a direct link to Nietzsche's philosophy (or his style of philosophy) though.

UPDATE This recent article (in German, Google translation here) remarks on Nietzsche's influence on famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner, whose 70th birthday is today. Messner's many books also touch on questions of philosophy, e.g. the individual’s power against conformity (less so on skepticism).

On reflection, I now also think that there may be a relevant link between Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Friedrich Nietzsche, e.g. apparent in the first author's call to "life in such a way that we die only once" (but attenuated by his emphasis on community): Reinhold Messner would certainly agree to that call and he lived a life to show it: Happy birthday!

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