Circular asked me what defines skeptical in response to a comment I made to his post on E.T.

Your question is a very deep and important one. The line between being “suitably critical” and being “skeptical” is difficult to draw. The best I can do in a blog comment is point to attitude. Attitude, something more in the irrational part of the soul, though also somewhat voluntary, seems to be a strange thing to point to when talking about a heady subject like epistemology. Nevertheless, the skeptic may be characterized as having an attitude that is enthusiastic about defeating the prevailing wisdom and revolution. The critical person looks to challenge the prevailing wisdom, but hopes it holds knowing that revolution is not always a good thing.
“Prevailing wisdom”, however, is a bit of a misleading term bbecaue it makes us think of social or political revolution which are glorified in our age. I think the skeptic that I am most concerned with tries to create a revolution by undermining our perception of reality. Spielberg, in E.T., as well as other sci-fi writers challenge some of our basic suppositions about reality such as “we were meant to live in this world.” (This supposition coincides with the supposition that “this world isn’t quite our home anymore”.) It strikes me that Spielberg is skeptical, but perhaps in this instance I am wrong. What do you think, Buhler?

Nonetheless, I do think, with more careful work, this is the beginnings of a distinction between skeptical and suitably critical. Comments are very welcome.

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Posted by Andrew Selby

One Comment

  1. Selby, your concern in lost on me.

    E.T. is probably the most family friendly, least cynical (I think that is a more appropriate word for the attitude you are discribing) sci-fi/adventure story in the history of film– maybe in the history of the genre.

    I worry that you’re missing the point of the film and in missing it making yourself irrelevant to the larger world culture that created such an unbelievable hit.

    Then again, maybe I’m missing your point. What exactly is it that you find dangerous about E.T.?


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