woman with long braid, hands on hip, skeptical look on face

Skepticism is a questioning attitude or doubt, especially towards a belief that claims to be truth. Skepticism is often applied to dogmatic religious beliefs, to scientific inquiry or philosophy, or to conspiracy theories.

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The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom. Skepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom.

— Clarence Darrow

Does a man of sense run after every silly tale of hobgoblins or fairies, and canvass particularly the evidence? I never knew anyone, that examined and deliberated about nonsense who did not believe it before the end of his enquiries.

— David Hume

Education has failed in a very serious way to convey the most important lesson science can teach: skepticism.

— David Suzuki

Skepticism has never founded empires, established principles, or changed the world’s heart. The great doers in history have always been people of faith.

— Edwin Hubbel Chapin

People have moved beyond apathy, beyond skepticism into deep cynicism.

— Elliot Richardson

[T]he test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible” come true.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

They are ill discoverers that think there is no land when they see nothing but sea.

— Francis Bacon

Great intellects are skeptical.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

There is no better soporific and sedative than skepticism.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Objection, evasion, joyous distrust, and love of irony are signs of health; everything absolute belongs to pathology.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

The same principles which at first view lead to skepticism, pursued to a certain point, bring men back to common sense.

— George Berkeley

Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.

— George Carlin

If I am fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of his self-approved wisdom.

— George Gordon, Lord Byron

The path of sound credence is through the thick forest of skepticism.

— George Jean Nathan

There is a kind of courtesy in skepticism. It would be an offense against polite conventions to press our doubts too far.

— George Santayana

Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.

— George Santayana

Profound skepticism is favorable to conventions, because it doubts that the criticism of conventions is any truer than they are.

— George Santayana

We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced.

— Gilbert K. Chesterton

It is assumed that the skeptic has no bias; whereas he has a very obvious bias in favour of skepticism.

— Gilbert K. Chesterton

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.”

— H.L. Mencken

Doubt everything or believe everything: these are two equally convenient strategies. With either we dispense with the need for reflection.

— Henri Poincare

Skepticism is thus a resting-place for human reason, where it can reflect upon its dogmatic wanderings and make survey of the region in which it finds itself, so that for the future it may be able to choose its path with more certainty. But it is no dwelling-place for permanent settlement. Such can be obtained only through perfect certainty in our knowledge, alike of the objects themselves and of the limits within which all our knowledge of objects is enclosed.

— Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

A wise skepticism is the first attribute of a good critic.

— James Russell Lowell

Skepticism is a useful tool of the inquisitive mind, but it is scarcely a method of investigation.

— James Thurber

She believed in nothing. Only her scepticism kept her from being an atheist.

— Jean-Paul Sartre

Skepticism: the mark and even the pose of the educated mind.

— John Dewey

The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.

— John F. Kennedy

New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.

— John Locke

Skepticism literally means a thoughtful inquiry, the looking at a problem in a disinterested spirit, the surveying of a question from many sides. In this sense it is the very essence of philosophy and science.

— Joseph Alexander Leighton

Nevertheless, a distinction must be made between skepticism as a philosophical thesis and skepticism as an attitude in life. As a philosophical thesis, it is a contradictory one, since it affirms the impossibility of knowing truth, although this affirmation itself claims to be true. Thus, skepticism as a thesis refutes itself in the very act of being formulated. The other aspect is different: this is the abstention from all judgments, skepticism in life, which neither affirms nor denies. This skepticism appears in history time and again, although here, too, it is doubtful whether human life can remain floating in this abstention without taking root in convictions.

— Julián Marías, History of Philosophy
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