As I understand it, universal skepticism says that everything is uncertain. For example, you can't even say that you are sure that 1=1 because it depends upon your notion of equality. There are no things that are provable beyond any doubt whatsoever.

This is how I see the world.

Is this an accurate description of universal skepticism?

It frustrates me that I believe this because I want to believe in foundationalism, which I understand to mean that you start with some indisputable truth, then build your ontology and ethics and your concept of what is of value based upon that indisputable truth. Foundationalism seems, to me, the most stable way of living. Instead, I am confused and growingly depressed since everything seems uncertain and impossible to prove. I want to live a good life, but how can I do so if nothing is tied down?

My beliefs are subject to change, which could cause my goals to change and do a 180 degree turn at any moment. My life feels like a sort of random walk process. If my ontology says that everything is uncertain, then what kind of ethic would be built upon such an unstable starting point?

  • Nothing is certain, but some things are more certain than others. You can build a consistent ethical system on this foundation and judge your adherence to the system, even though that judgment is also uncertain. There are many robust scientific methods for dealing with quantitative uncertainty.
    – sjy
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 2:02
  • 2
    I think there's too much going on in your question. The question in the title is an interesting and answerable question, but it seems like in the body you are also asking several other questions -- like can universal skeptics have an ethics?
    – virmaior
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 3:49
  • Certainty is only a mood. All statements are disputable. Truth is merely a condition of statements that is satisfied when what is said is is, i.e. the statement "it is raining" (what is said is) is true if and only if it is raining (what is). Knowledge is simply observational verification of what is (else how do you know what is?)
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 7:37

2 Answers 2


So the Cartesian project of complete foundationalist certainty has been abandoned my contemporary epistemologists. Nevertheless there are still foundationalists, and they tend to really stress the defeasibility of their knowledge. Foundationalists hold that relative certainty of the truth is achievable through some starting point. A domain-non-specific global skeptic would say there can't be any certainty as to the truth. Praxeologically we may all act on some sort of implicit foundationalism, but that doesn't mean we aren't skeptics, however. It depends on how we think the world discloses itself to us.


If they are at odds it is on the basis of something that subsumes both.

Consider that when you ask questions like "is Marxism better than Nazism?" you are appealing to a higher-level field of values.

So if you say " Prove to me that X is so" you are making an appeal to reason and accept it without argument.

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