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When faced with a lack of any conclusive argument one way or the other, how does

When faced with a lack of any conclusive argument one way or the other, how does one avoid total scepticism?

By 'conclusive' argument, I assume you mean some argument that proves, or guarantees, its conclusion. By 'total skepticism' I assume you mean to have no opinion one way or the other at all, or to completely lack any confidence in both the conclusion and its negation. Now, if I understood that right, I think the answer to your question is: by considering arguments that are not conclusive, or don't absolutely guarantee their conclusions. Often, we have arguments that, while not proving or guaranteeing their conclusions, they do provide some good reason to think that the conclusion is true. For example: My dog almost never barks unless there's someone coming; my dog is now barking; therefore, there is someone coming. This is not conclusive, in the sense that it leaves open some possibility that someone is not coming. But it seems unreasonable for me to be totally skeptical, or to have no opinion, on whether someone is coming. Rather, I should be somewhat confident, but not certain, that someone is coming. We have the capacity to believe things to different degrees, and sometimes we are less confident in what we believe than utter certainty. When an argument indicates, but doesn't guarantee a conclusion, the rational response seems to be some confidence, but not certainty, in the conclusion. Total skepticism seems unreasonable in such cases, or at any rate, avoidable. Finally, notice that some arguments would guarantee their conclusions if their premises were true, but we are uncertain about whether the premises are true. For example: All dogs bark; Fido is a dog; therefore Fido barks. I'm not totally certain--and I don't possess any guarantee--that all dogs bark. So this argument isn't conclusive, and even once I understand it and believe its premises (though not with certainty), it seems I should be neither certain in its conclusion nor totally skeptical about it. The conclusion, I should think, is probably true (insofar as the premises are probably true).

By 'conclusive' argument, I assume you mean some argument that proves, or guarantees, its conclusion. By 'total skepticism' I assume you mean to have no opinion one way or the other at all, or to completely lack any confidence in both the conclusion and its negation. Now, if I understood that right, I think the answer to your question is: by considering arguments that are not conclusive, or don't absolutely guarantee their conclusions. Often, we have arguments that, while not proving or guaranteeing their conclusions, they do provide some good reason to think that the conclusion is true. For example: My dog almost never barks unless there's someone coming; my dog is now barking; therefore, there is someone coming. This is not conclusive, in the sense that it leaves open some possibility that someone is not coming. But it seems unreasonable for me to be totally skeptical, or to have no opinion, on whether someone is coming. Rather, I should be somewhat confident, but not certain, that someone is coming. We...

Is it an ad-hominem when I get called "a pessimist who won't be happy with

Is it an ad-hominem when I get called "a pessimist who won't be happy with positive changes in situation X, so further debate is pointless", even though I've presented my arguments for why I'm skeptical of any positive changes in situation X? I feel like it's a dismissive tactic, but would like some clarification.

This is a good, and difficult question. There's no doubt that, in some cases, this sort of objection really is an unfair, unhelpful dismissal. Calling you names ("silly pessimist!") could just be a way to fail to engage with what you're saying. Though that may be what's going on in your case, sometimes such objections actually do have a point. Let's set aside the "ad-hominem" fallacy, whether this is an instance of it, and what that implies, and just consider whether one might have a good point when one objects with something like "you just think that because you're a pessimist." It is useful to compare this with a more straightforward case first. Suppose you think that your daughter is the best singer in the choir, and someone says to you "you just think that because she's your daughter!" You might reply, "but I hear her singing, and I hear the others, and I genuinely think she's got the best voice." "Yeah," the objector replies, "of course you think that, whatever, have fun thinking she's the best!" What's going on in that situation? The objector could be trying to point out that, because you love your daughter, and want for her to be the best, you are biased in your assessment of her skills. This bias, of course, might not be intentional on your part, and it may still seem to you like you have good reasons (you do hear her voice, after all). What the bias is doing, according to this imagined objector, is tainting your evaluation of the evidence. You'll be quicker to easily accept evidence that she's the best, and more critical of evidence to the contrary. So, here we have a case in which the objector may have a point, if the objector is resisting your conclusion by citing your bias due to your desire that your daughter be the best. Of course, this is just *some* reason for suspicion. Your daughter may turn out to be best, and it may well be that, in fact, you were fair and unbiased in your evaluation. All I'm saying here is that the objection at least makes sense: there's some reason to think you are untrustworthy on this question, because there's some reason to think you're biased. Now return to your friend, who accused you of being a pessimist. One way to understand the condition of pessimism is that you eagerly accept, and amplify, arguments or evidence for negative conclusions, and you criticize, dismiss, or minimize (or ignore) arguments for positive conclusions. If so, then even if you're able to cite some argument for your negative conclusion, that's not a very good indication that there aren't good criticisms of that argument, or that there aren't even better arguments for a positive conclusion instead. In short, if you're a pessimist, there's reason to suspect that you're biased when it comes to negative conclusions. As in the previous case, of course your accuser might be wrong. Maybe you really did fairly evaluate all the arguments, and were not so biased in reaching your conclusion. But if you really do operate as a pessimist, then you should admit that's *some* reason to suspect your negative conclusions. All of this raises many good questions. Aren't we all biased, and therefore untrustworthy, in various ways? And if so, why do we ever bother giving arguments in the first place? And is it ever possible to overcome one's biases, at least the ones one knows about? I think there are probably reasonable answers to such questions, but I'm an optimistic philosopher, so maybe I'm just biased...

This is a good, and difficult question. There's no doubt that, in some cases, this sort of objection really is an unfair, unhelpful dismissal. Calling you names ("silly pessimist!") could just be a way to fail to engage with what you're saying. Though that may be what's going on in your case, sometimes such objections actually do have a point. Let's set aside the "ad-hominem" fallacy, whether this is an instance of it, and what that implies, and just consider whether one might have a good point when one objects with something like "you just think that because you're a pessimist." It is useful to compare this with a more straightforward case first. Suppose you think that your daughter is the best singer in the choir, and someone says to you "you just think that because she's your daughter!" You might reply, "but I hear her singing, and I hear the others, and I genuinely think she's got the best voice." "Yeah," the objector replies, "of course you think that, whatever, have fun thinking she's the best!"...