Inquiry. Let us inquire in the first place: What is Scepticism? The word means looking, questioning, investigating. One must pass by contemptuously the Christian liar's gloss which interprets "sceptic" as "mocker"; though in a sense it is true for him, since to inquire into Christianity is assuredly to mock at it; but I am concerned to intensify the etymological connotation in several respects. First, I do not regard mere incredulity as necessary to the idea, though credulity is incompatible with it. Incredulity implies a prejudice in favour of a negative conclusion; and the true sceptic should be perfectly unbiased.
Second, I exclude "vital scepticism." What's the good of anyfink? expects (as we used to learn about "nonne?") the answer, "Why, nuffink!" and again is prejudiced. Indolence is no virtue in a questioner. Eagerness, intentness, concentration, vigilance — all these I include in the connotation of "sceptic." Such questioning as has been called "vital scepticism" is but a device to avoid true questioning, and therefore its very antithesis, the devil disguised as an angel of light.
[Or vice versâ, friend, if you are a Satanist; 'tis a matter of words — words — words. You may write x for y in your equations, so long as you consistently write y for x. They remain unchanged — and unsolved. Is not all our "knowledge" an example of this fallacy of writing one unknown for another, and then crowing like Peter's cock?]
I picture the true sceptic as a man eager and alert, his deep eyes glittering like sharp swords, his hands tense with effort as he asks, "What does it matter?"
I picture the false sceptic as a dude or popinjay, yawning, with dull eyes, his muscles limp, his purpose in asking the question but the expression of his slackness and stupidity.
This true sceptic is indeed the man of science; as Wells' "Moreau" tells us. He has devised some means of answering his first question, and its answer is another question. It is difficult to conceive of any question, indeed, whose answer does not imply a thousand further questions. So simple an inquiry as "Why is sugar sweet?" involves an infinity of chemical researches, each leading ultimately to the blank wall — what is matter? and an infinity of physiological researches, each (similarly) leading to the blank wall — what is mind?
Even so, the relation between the two ideas is unthinkable; causality is itself unthinkable; it depends, for one thing, upon experience — and what, in God's name, is experience? Experience is impossible without memory. What is memory? The mortar of the temple of the ego, whose bricks are the impressions. And the ego? The sum of our experience, may be. (I doubt it!) Anyhow, we have got values of y and z for x, and the values of x and z for y — all our equations are indeterminate; all our knowledge is relative, even in a narrower sense than is usually implied by the statement. Under the whip of the clown God, our performing donkeys the philosophers and men of science run round and round in the ring; they have amusing tricks: they are cleverly trained; but they get nowhere.
I don't seem to be getting anywhere myself.