Intended for healthcare professionals

Filler When I Use a Word

Five types of skepticism

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 05 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1986
  1. Jeff Aronson, honorary consultant physician, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford
  1. jeffrey.aronson{at}

Look here. The Greeks metathesised the hypothetical Indo-European root SPEK, to see or regard, into skopein, to look, see, watch, or regard, with its related deponent verb skeptesthai, “I consider,” and the adjective skeptikos, “thoughtful.” Hence skepticism, the earliest recorded spelling (or scepticism, as some spell it today). I recognise five types: philosophical, Voltairian, scientific, dogmatic, and nihilistic.

Philosophical skepticism

The Skeptics, an ancient Greek school of philosophers, founded by Pyrrho, asserted nothing positively and doubted the very possibility of knowledge, although they did not go so far as to assert its impossibility, because that would have been a positive assertion. Immanuel Kant adopted this extreme view in The Critique of Pure Reason (1781): “The skeptical method is the method of watching, or rather provoking, a conflict of assertions, not for the purpose of deciding in …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription