Precepts to use in everyday life

1. Think for yourself, 2. Be yourself, 3. Speak up, 4. Feel free to agree and disagree, 5. Be honest with yourself and others, 6. Be open-minded, 7. Avoid being judgmental and 8. Question everything - even your own thinking.

TOK Essay Titles May 2019

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Natural Sciences and Human Sciences

Following on from the precautionary tale of the last post, here’s another approach to the skeptical tradition of thinking about knowledge claims, especially against those made about paranormal events, aliens, miracles and pseudo-scientific theories:

‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’ (Carl Sagan)

A popularized version of:

‘An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof’ (Marcello Truzzi)

These statements originate in:

1/ the thinking of the Scottish Philosopher David Hume: “A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence” and

2/ the thinking of the French Mathematician Pierre Laplace: “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.”

See a religious examination of the statement here:

and a medical (not literally, but philosophical!) examination here:

and a skeptic’s examination here:

Which one do you find most compelling and why?

Some knowledge issues relating to this approach: How far is the skeptical approach to knowledge a practical one? To what extent does a skeptical approach take us nearer to objective knowledge? In what ways does a skeptical approach help or hinder the search for knowledge? Is skepticism about miracles/aliens (or any other extraordinary claim) justified?

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