I haven’t thought much about the application of the idea ‘skepticism’ since the first year of my philosophy program, because it had already been sorted out to my satisfaction and the satisfaction of my instructors.
Someone mentioned it in a comment, and I’m wondering about its relevance. To me it’s applicable to every philosophical discourse as an implicit presumption; weak skeptisism it's part of the grounding for contemporary intellection.
Here’s the crux of the problem as described by Duncan Pritchard in the IEP. The sections bracketed by quotation marks are Pritchard's quotes from Nagel, T. (1986). The View from Nowhere, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England:
We realise that the initial appearances present to a viewpoint can be unreliable guides to reality and therefore seek to modify our ‘subjective' view with a more ‘objective’ perspective that is tempered by reason and reflection. As Nagel points out, however, the trouble with this approach is that
"[...] if initial appearances are not in themselves reliable guides to reality, [then] why should the products of detached reflection be any different? Why aren't they [...] equally doubtful [...]? [...] The same ideas that make the pursuit of objectivity seem necessary for knowledge make both objectivity and knowledge seem, on reflection, unattainable." (Nagel 1986, 76)
We can reconstruct the argument here as follows. We recognise that our initial unmodified ‘subjective' experience of the world is unreliable and therefore should be adapted along ‘objective’ lines by eliminating the ‘subjective’ element. For instance, initial appearances tell us, falsely, that straight sticks suddenly become ‘bent’ when placed in water. Accordingly, we modify our initial ‘subjective’ view with the testimony of ‘objective’ scientific investigation which tells us that the stick in fact stays straight, it is just the light that is bending. However, and here is the crux of the matter as far as Nagel is concerned, why do we regard this modified view as being any more reliable than the completely ‘subjective’ perspective that it replaces? After all, we cannot eliminate every trace of ‘subjectivity’ and thus the problematic component of our conception of reality that engendered the pursuit of objectivity in the first place remains. Consequently, we are both aware of the need for objectivity whilst also recognising that such objectivity is impossible. As a result, according to Nagel, we are condemned to the following pessimistic evaluation of our epistemic capacities:
"The search for objective knowledge, because of its commitment to a realist picture, is inescapably subject to skepticism and cannot refute it but must proceed under its shadow. [...] Skepticism [...] is a problem only because of the realist claims of objectivity." (Nagel 1986, 71)
That is, the problem of skepticism [...] "has no solution, but to recognise that is to come as near as we can to living in the light of truth (Nagel 1986, 231)."
Here’s what I learned in philosophy school; it’s worked for me ever since:
A) Strong skepticism: (“There is no knowledge” or “There is no true knowledge”) is self-refuting thus incoherent. Also, it’s impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist (see Proving Non-Existence).
B) Weak Skepticism 1: We can’t possibly verify that we’ve inferred anything for certain about anything that we can’t observe directly. This is Kant’s insight that our linguistic theories and models of unobservable things can’t ever be verified by comparison with those (supposed)things. This realisation deflated correspondence theory and triggered a new age of philosophy.
C) Weak skepticism 2: Popper eventually capitulated to the postmodern wave which swept Europe after Kant’s intervention when he admitted that only knowledge in the symbolic (formal) languages of logic and arithmetic is certainly true. “All else [including] the natural sciences … is essentially conjectural … there simply are no sufficient reasons for holding those hypotheses to be true, let alone certainly true.” (Objective Knowledge: an Evolutionary Approach, p. 75)
To me weak skeptisism is applicable to every philosophical discourse as an implicit presumption; it's part of the grounding for contemporary intellection.
Is skepticism an issue for anybody here? Is there any question or contention about it around here?