Friday, May 31, 2013

Scepticism is only a secondary virtue

In a peculiar way, I suppose I should be grateful to Brendan O'Neill, as I'm getting a second post from my reaction to his article in The Big Issue defending climate scepticism.

This one's more of a general reflection on the worth of scepticism in general.

I hear a lot about scepticism: towards politics, in matters of faith or about the future.

And at least some of this scepticism is a good thing. Reasoned doubt means we ask ourselves and others searching questions. We look before we leap; we don't let ideas live rent free in our heads. We politely decline offers to drink the Kool-aid.

But in and of itself, scepticism is not enough. It achieves nothing constructive - it merely clears the ground for new ideas. It's also a tool which can be turned against the positive - curdling dreams, miring visions in if's and but's. at its worst becoming an inverted, black-hatted dogmatism of disbelief.

Or, to put it another way: you can't build a better society on a bullsh*t detector.

German has a great portmanteau word for traits like this, which is Sekundartugend or 'secondary virtue'. Secondary virtues like sceptical enquiry (or thrift or etiquette, say,) are only really virtuous when exercised in tandem with compassion for others; in the absence of love they can serve a bad cause just as well as a good one.

So tell me what you're for, not just what you're against.

No comments:

Post a Comment