Meanings: “Skeptic”

May 6, 2011

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

skeptic Look up skeptic at Dictionary.com
also sceptic, 1580s, “member of an ancient Greek school that doubted the possibility of real knowledge,” from Fr. sceptique, from L. scepticus, from Gk. skeptikos (pl. Skeptikoi “the Skeptics”), lit. “inquiring, reflective,” the name taken by the disciples of the Greek philosopher Pyrrho (c.360-c.270 B.C.E.), from skeptesthai “to reflect, look, view” (see scope(1)). The extended sense of “one with a doubting attitude” first recorded 1610s. The sk- spelling is an early 17c. Greek revival and is preferred in U.S.

Skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found. [Miguel de Unamuno, “Essays and Soliloquies,” 1924]

I think the Unamuno quotation is quite telling about how the word has become something of a caricature of its original meaning: narrowing from “inquiring, reflective,” to “doubting.”

Advertisements

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
This entry was posted in Meanings. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s