Evenings With the Skeptics, Vol. 2 of 2 Vols.


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EVENINGS WITH THE SKEPTICS OR FREE DISCUSSION ON FREE THINKERS, Vol. I, PRE-CHRISTIAN SKEPTICISM, Vol. 2 of 2 Vols., by JOHN OWEN. This is an important History of Skepticism, a subject grossly neglected by modern Philosophers, neglected because the study of Skepticism and Skeptics very often leads to Skepticism by the investigator - assuming he or she has none before their investigation. John Owen was Rector of East Anstey, Devon, and no Skeptic at the beginning of his research for this Work, he was an honest investigator, searching for the truth. From the Preface of this book we find this description of the purpose of this Study: "Genuine Skepticism may be regarded from two standpoints. 1. In relation to dogma, it is the antithetical habit which suggests investigation - the instinct that spontaneously distrusts both finality and infallibility as ordinary attributes of truth. It inculcates caution and wariness as against the confidence, presumption, self-complacent assurance of Dogmatists. Thus interpreted, it is needless to point out the importance of its functions. A history of doubters and free-thinkers is in fact the history of human enlightenment, Every advance in thought or knowledge has owed its inception and impulse to inquiring doubt,. Hence it would be idle to deny or attempt to minimize the historical importance of Skepticism, or the perennial antagonism between doubt and dogma - the dynamic and static principles of all human knowledge, 2. Considered in itself Skepticism implies (1) Continuous search, (2) Suspense, or so much of it as is needful as an incentive to search, This is the literal meaning of the word as well as it's general signification in Greek philosophy. We thus perceive that the Skeptic is not the denier or dogmatic Negationist he is commonly held to be. Positive denial is as much opposed to the true Skeptical standpoint as determinate affirmation. One as well as the other implies fixity and finality. Each, when extreme and unconditional, makes a claim to omniscience. Now it is in order to wean back, if possible, a much-abused philosophical term to its primitive use, as well as to conform to the increasing and true taste of spelling foreign words in their own manner, that the author has adopted in this work the orthography of Slccytic and Skepticism. Whatever meaning, therefore, his readers may have been accustomed to attach to the more common Sceptic, &c., he begs them to understand that a Skeptic in these volumes is above all things an inquirer. He is the indomitable, never-tiring searcher after truth - possibly one who believes, at least one who affects, search more than he does absolutely definitive attainment. Most men are willing to accept the inquiring attribute of the Skeptic. What they dislike is Skeptical suspense; but, a small amount of reflection might convince them that if the mind is to exercise its greatest instinct of continual search, it can only do so by virtue of some motive-influence, i.e. a consciousness of defective knowledge. Unhappily there are few speculative truths, even of those commonly believed, which do not on examination reveal a sufficiency of human nescience to justify further investigation, while it is evident that not a few minds are so constituted as to be impatient of definitive certitude of any kind. It would be difficult, e.g., to propound a truth which would satisfy the exigeant requirements of a Montaigne, or could withstand the unscrupulous Eristic of a Sokrates. The true Skeptic may hence be defined as the seeker after the absolute. He is the searcher who must needs find, if he find anything, not only demonstrable and infallible, but unconditionally perfect truth. As such he may plead companionship in thought and aspiration with other than seekers after ‘the Infinite. He becomes allied with religionists, with mystics, with idealists, with philosophic hunters after the Ding U% sic& with persistent inquirers of every type whose ostensible goal transcends their actual powers, That such a seeker need not be impeded in his energies by the full consciousness of their inconclusive result is evident. He shares the ardent temperament - the passion for search for its own sake, common to all minds of his own type* What Mystic, e.g., was ever deterred in his pursuit by the impossibility of his desiderated consummation - complete union with deity? or what religionist ever considered himself thwarted in his endeaours after spiritual perfection by the self-evident futility of his efforts? This definition of Skepticism as truth - search may serve to remove some of the objections made against it as an antagonistic influence to religion, and especially to Christianity. Taking Christianity in its primary and true sense, as we find it embodied in the words and life of Christ, this supposed conflict of its dictates with reasonable inquiry after truth is nothing else than an ecclesiastical fiction. Certainly the claims of a religion which asserts itself as the Truth, which bases freedom upon truth - discovery, whose Founder’s profession was that ‘He came to bear witness to the truth, and which appealed to the reason and conscience of mankind, i.e. to their instincts of spiritual and moral truth, can never be fairly represented as opposed to truth-search. To the further objection, does not the definition of Christianity as a Revelation render further search needless? an answer is given in the course of this work." And so you see this is a serious Philosophical inquiry after truth, and a History of the quest for truth.
Emmett F. Fields

  • Model: Skept2
  • Author: Owen, John

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