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Quotations about Healthy Skepticism

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Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.
- Mark Twain

” Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
- Buddha

“for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”
- William Shakespeare Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2

“Another error is an impatience of doubt and haste to assertion without due and mature suspension of judgment. For the two ways of contemplation are not unlike the two ways of action commonly spoken of by the ancients; the one plain and smooth in the beginning, and in the end impassable; the other rough and troublesome in the entrance, but after a while fair and even. So it is in contemplation; if a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”
- Francis Bacon (1561-1626): The Proficience and Advancement of Learning
(London, 1605).

“The registering of doubts hath two excellent uses: the one, that it saveth philosophy from errors and falsehoods; when that which is not fully appearing is not collected into assertion, whereby error might draw error, but reserved in doubt: the other, that the entry of doubts are as so many
suckers or sponges to draw use of knowledge; insomuch as that which, if doubts had not preceded, a man should never have advised, but passed it over without note, by the suggestion and solicitation of doubts, is made to be attended and applied.”
- Francis Bacon (1561-1626): The Proficience and Advancement of Learning
(London, 1605).

“Far too large a section of the treatment of disease is to-day controlled by the big manufacturing pharmacists, who have enslaved us in a plausible pseudo-science…
The blind faith which some men have in medicines illustrates too often the greatest of all human capacities - the capacity for self deception…
Some one will say, Is this all your science has to tell us?  Is this the outcome of decades of good clinical work, of patient study of the disease, of anxious trial in such good faith of so many drugs?  Give us back the childlike trust of the fathers in antimony and in the lancet rather than this cold nihilism.  Not at all! Let us accept the truth, however unpleasant it may be, and with the death rate staring us in the face, let us not be deceived with vain fancies…we need a stern, iconoclastic spirit which leads, not to nihilism, but to an active skepticism - not the passive skepticism, born of despair, but the active skepticism born of a knowledge that recognizes its limitations and knows full well that only in this attitude of mind can true progress be made.”
- William Osler…to the Ontario Medical Association,  June 1909 source: Michael Bliss. William Osler: A Life in Medicine. Oxford University Press 1999

“I am not very skeptical… a good deal of skepticism in a scientific man is advisable to avoid much loss of time, but I have met not a few men, who… have often thus been deterred from experiments or observations which would have proven servicable.”
- Charles Darwin

“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”
- Leo Tolstoy

“The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.”
- Mark Twain

“Inquiry is fatal to certainty.”
- William J. Durant

“A danger sign of the lapse from true skepticism in to dogmatism is an inability to respect those who disagree”
- Dr. Leonard George

“If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now and then, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress. ”
- Carl Sagan

“In philosophical discussion, the merest hint of dogmatic certainty as to finality of statement is an exhibition of folly.”
- Whitehead

The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, skepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.
Thomas Henry Huxley, biologist and educator, Aphorisms and Reflections, 1907

Skepticism is a virtue in history as well as in philosophy.
- Napoleon Bonaparte

Never ascribe to malice that which is better explained by incompetence.
- Napoleon Bonaparte

True courage is mixed with circumspection, the kind of healthy skepticism that asks, “Is this the best way to do this?” True cowardice is marked by chronic skepticism, which always says, “It can’t be done.”
-William Bennett

Healthy scepticism is the basis of all accurate observation.
- Arthur Conan Doyle, The Vital Message 1919.

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

Skepticism: the mark and even the pose of the educated mind.
- John Dewey

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

A belief which leaves no place for doubt is not a belief; it is a superstition.
José Bergamí­n, writer, The Rocket and the Star, 1923

Skepticism is provisional, even if it lasts a lifetime.
José Bergamí­n, writer, Head in the Clouds, 1934

Belief in the truth commences with the doubting of all those “truths” we once believed.
Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher, “Truth Will Have No Other Gods Alongside It,” 1879

These matters require what I think of as the Shakespearean cast of thought. That is to say, a fine credulity about everything, kept in check by a lively skepticism about everything…. It keeps you constantly alert to every possibility.
Robertson Davies, novelist, Hugh McWearie in Murther and Walking Spirits, 1991

There is no absolute knowledge. And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy. All information is imperfect. We have to treat it with humility.
Jacob Bronowski, scientist, broadcaster, The Ascent of Man, 1973

The deeper problems of advertising come less from the unscrupulousness of our ‘deceivers, than from our pleasure in being deceived, less from the desire to seduce than from the desire to be seduced.
- Daniel J Boorstein, historian, The Image : A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, 1962

 

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What these howls of outrage and hurt amount to is that the medical profession is distressed to find its high opinion of itself not shared by writers of [prescription] drug advertising. It would be a great step forward if doctors stopped bemoaning this attack on their professional maturity and began recognizing how thoroughly justified it is.
- Pierre R. Garai (advertising executive) 1963