Strictly, skepticism is a matter of doubt rather than of denial. The skeptic is, strictly, not one who denies the validity of certain types of belief, but one who questions, if only initially and for methodological reasons, the adequacy of our grounds for holding them.

[P. F. Strawson, Scepticism and Naturalism: Some Varieties]

I don't understand the usage of "if only" in the text above, can you explain its usage to me?

2 Answers 2


I'm sure you've looked up the meaning of the words individually and understand that 'only' means solely, or singularly - that there is one of something and nothing else besides it.

One use of "if only" is to introduce a single hypothetical condition that would have changed something; for example, "if only he would listen, he would understand" suggests that listening alone would lead to understanding, and not any other factors. However, we also use the expression to suggest that something might be the only reason something actually does occur, which is the case in your example.

The quotation defines a "sceptic" as someone who "questions" things. It qualifies that by saying "..if only initially and for methodological reasons, the adequacy of our grounds for holding them". In other words, it is saying that some people may question things routinely for a single reason - to check that they are valid. The text suggests that other people may automatically deny certain kinds of beliefs, so their scepticism may serve other purposes - to dry and disprove things, perhaps, or to reject or deny a certain belief by default. But a true sceptic does not necessarily question for those reasons - only for the reason stated.



I think you should visit them, if only briefly.

That means "I think you should visit them, even if you don't stay very long.


When you opened your mouth, I thought, if only for a moment, that you were going to sneeze. Then I realized you were yawning.

That is, I thought that you were going to sneeze, although that thought lasted only a moment.

In your text, the meaning is "even if the questioning is only an initial stance and only for methodological reasons". In other words, skeptical questioning of the adequacy of the grounds for holding an opinion is a protocol that one follows.

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