Friday, March 29, 2013

Entry #3: A Philosophical Lexicon for Perfumistas

Skepticism and Skeptics

The word skeptic is used quite a lot in a loose way to refer to someone who harbors doubts about a particular question or subject matter. In philosophy, skeptic and skepticism refer more specifically to a type of epistemological doubt. Skeptics are people who start out as epistemologists, attempting to determine the conditions and extent of our knowledge, but they end by concluding that the answers to the following questions are rather dim: 

What do we know? Diddly.

How do we know? We don't.

Can we know? No.

Do we know anything at all? No.

What is truly fascinating about skepticism is that it knows (pardon the pun) no bounds. It is possible even to be a skeptic about skepticism! So a consistent skeptic ultimately ends up in a quandary: how does he know that he does not know?

Socrates appears to have been a skeptic, who did not espouse any positive views of his own about the world, but famously exhorted people to Know thyself. When it came to matters transcending the self, Socrates was all questions and no answers, and this really annoyed his contemporaries, who in the end sentenced him to death for his irritating habit of walking around the streets of Athens and badgering people with questions until they revealed the truth: that they had no idea what they were talking about.

Socrates revealed this truth to his interlocutors by catching them in contradictions. It cannot be the case both that p and that not-p (where p is any proposition), but when Socrates persisted in his questioning, he invariably found that the people with whom he conversed contradicted themselves, thus demonstrating that, despite their sophisticated airs and alleged expertise and experience, reality and appearance diverged.

Are there skeptics in the world of perfume? Of course. One of the most common examples is the Creed skeptic, who denies that the house of Creed really is all that it purports to be. To the Creed skeptic, a Creed skeptic skeptic (such as Bryan Ross at From Pyrgos) retorts: how do you know that Creed is a sham? 

Is a skeptic about Creed skeptics a true believer? Or does he simply deny that the grounds for Creed skepticism are sound? I encourage you to read some of the many excellent pieces on these matters over at From Pyrgos.

We'll pick up tomorrow where we left off, with the skeptic's mortal enemy: the metaphysician!


  1. Hear hear! The skeptic of a skeptic is the truest skeptic of all.

    1. What I love about your pieces on Creed, Bryan, is that you really do "the Socrates thing," by digging into the grounds for so-called Creed skepticism and revealing flagrant contradictions left and right. So many of the claims seem to be baseless and flimsy expressions of the complainer's (I hesitate even to use "skeptic's" in some of the cases) own personal issues.

      You are absolutely right that when people acquire their bottles from ebay or some discounter warehouse likely to have poor climate control and dubious sources, and then they bitch about the quality without even entertaining the high likelihood that what they have sniffed is a fake, then they betray much more about themselves than they say about Creed perfumes...

      Nice to see that you're following this series. Pretty soon I'll be back to essays again. ;-)

  2. Dear Shera

    Would I be alone in feeling that this is a slightly reductivist rather than skeptical view of Socrates and moreover his affect on those on whom he practised his method?

    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    1. 'Tis indeed reductivist, Perfumed Dandy. But, alas, dear Socrates left so few traces of the inner workings of his mind, that we are left to piece together the evidence as best we can!

      Some would say that Socrates was but a jester. Others paint him as a Christ-like figure. Many during his time found him to be insufferably obnoxious.

      I, being a skeptic, naturally look at him and see a skeptic...


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