Skepticism bypass

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A skepticism bypass is any statement or tactic designed to induce the listener to lower their skeptical filters, so that subsequent statements will not be analyzed skeptically.


  • Fake explanations are a type of skepticism bypass, since they answer a question in ways that are unverifiable and therefore not subject to rational analysis; a higher-level view is required in order to notice this lack of verifiability.



In an article about morals and political philosophy, Jonathan Haidt states in one paragraph "There is no rational or health-related way to explain these laws" – but he then goes on to suggest a rational hypothesis for how these laws came to be, i.e. that ancient lawgivers classified activities based on whether or not those activities seemed "disgusting" to them.

While it's true that the feeling of "disgust" is not a rational one, the suggestion that it was the basis for ancient law (which Haidt claims as representative of ancient morality, which in turn he uses as the basis for explaining modern morality) is a rational hypothesis.

A little skeptical thought applied to the text immediately after the "no rational way to explain these laws" statement – i.e. that an ancient lawgiver's level of disgust is somehow evidence for Haidt's hypothesis about morality (i.e. that actions are designated "moral" based on whether they support group/institutional integrity) – shows that Haidt has failed to demonstrate any real connection between them. We have just been told that there is nothing rational behind these laws, however, so we turn off our rational analysis just long enough for the rest of the argument to slip through without being questioned. (It's all speculative, right? So it doesn't really matter -- but then Haidt bases much of his thesis on the speculation we've just swallowed.)

The point at which we were fooled – where we were offered a speculative hypothesis not to be worried about, and ended up swallowing a supporting premise – can be very hard to spot. (This makes Haidt's argument also a form of bait-and-switch.)