On What Appears1 [117]



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On What Appears1

[117] 1. The experience of daily life always presents us with anomalies, incongruities, contradictions. And, when we try to explain them, explanations that seem reasonable at first sight turn out to be unsatisfactory upon more accurate examination. The nature of things and events doesn’t seem easily intelligible to us. Opinions and perspectives of men are hardly reconcilable or even inconsistent with one another. Emerging consensuses prove provisional and precarious. Those who feel the need to think with a more critical mind or who strive for better understanding are bewildered by this diversity.

Perhaps most men live well enough with this spectacle of the mundane anomaly. A few, however, are incapable of such a thing and this experience greatly disturbs them. Some of these become philosophers and seek in philosophy to end this disturbance and to find tranquillity of mind. The tranquillity of mind they hope to find, for example, through the possession of truth. Philosophy promises to explain the world to them, to account for our everyday experience, to dissipate contradictions, to dispel the clouds of incomprehension by revealing the being that the appearance conceals. Or, if that is not possible, by solving the mysteries of knowledge and delineating its nature and precise limits; or at least clarifying the nature and function of our human language, in which we speak about the world and formulate the philosophical problems. Philosophy distinguishes and proposes to teach us how to distinguish between truth and falsity, knowledge and belief, being and appearance, subject and object, representation and represented, besides many other distinctions.



[118] Philosophy, however, does not give us what it has promised and what we have sought in it. Quite the contrary, what it offers us is an extraordinary diversity of positions, and perspectives, totally incompatible with each other, and never reconcilable2. The discordance (diaphonía), which divides common men, we find again among philosophers, but now made infinitely more powerful and sophisticated by sagacious discourse. Philosophers do not agree on anything, not even upon the object, nature, or method of the enterprise of philosophising itself.

For those who seriously proposed to carry out philosophical investigation and are not content to make of philosophy a mere ingenious and pleasant verbal game, the experience of diaphonía is at first extremely frustrating, because it appears to us as lasting and unresolvable. However, could it be otherwise, when all the philosophers tranquilly recognise that there is not a single point of doctrine on which they universally agree? The incessant polemics among doctrines, the permanent rejection of rival positions, the reciprocal excommunication are repeated with monotony throughout the history of philosophy. Impressive argumentative structures excogitate themselves to sustain, with good logic, incompatible theses. Does a theory seduce us and appear persuasive? A little serene investigation soon leads us to discover arguments that contradict it with no less persuasion.

The controversial character of the theses in dispute appears to us as an unequivocal sign of its non-evidence. On the other hand, how would they solve such controversies in the total absence of criteria and accepted methods for deciding them? Criteria and methods are no more deserving of consensus among philosophers and are equally objects of universal disagreement. Of course there have been numerous philosophers who thematised this situation, diagnosing the “crisis” of philosophy in their epochs and trying to put an end to it. To this end they have established new philosophical systems or, at least, new ways of philosophising. Still, those systems and those ways soon found themselves submerged in the endless ocean of philosophical discrepancies. If we are to deal seriously with philosophies, there is no escaping from the experience of its insoluble diaphonía.

Moreover, a little reflection suffices to indicate that if we maintain the traditional perspective and make a philosophical decision – either by adhering to one of the historical philosophies, or by inventing our own philosophy – we inexorably condemn ourselves to be nothing but new and dissonant members of a choir without symphonía. The majority of philosophers will refuse our arguments, criticise our presuppositions and methods, and reject our results. Will we invoke in favour of our theses the power of evidence? Many philosophers have invoked it in favour of [119] theirs, but the others did not give them credit. In addition, there are as many theories of evidence as heads that have reflected upon the subject. Philosophy has long since dethroned evidence. Furthermore, let us not forget Montaigne: “The impression of certainty is certain evidence of madness and extreme uncertainty” (cf. Montaigne 1962, p. 522).

The human being seems, however, an eternal lover of truth. He never finds it to be sure, but he does not tire of pursuing it. The dogmatic spirit (in the sceptical sense of the term) exerts over him an extraordinary fascination. Various causes – and some of them certainly profound, lost in the underworld of consciousness or the unfathomable abyss of race’s unknown evolution – are responsible for this immoderate attachment to truth, whether purportedly possessed or searched for with inextinguishable hope. For this reason, perhaps, relatively few are those who, having once considered the sceptical trope of diaphonía, consent to spend their time meditating on it. Because if we agree to spend our time meditating upon it, if we keep alive the demands of a critical rationality that prohibits us from falling into dogmatic precipitation and temerarious assent to a momentarily seductive doctrine, then no philosophical decision is possible for us; we do not see how to assign truth to any doctrine. In this critical inability to choose truths, we retain our assent; we find ourselves in epokhé.

We remain in epokhé with regard to every philosophical subject upon which we reflect. Because about all of them, having diagnosed the irrecusable diaphonía that involves them, having always detected the possibility of building reasonably well-structured arguments in favour of each conflicting side, we are never able to critically decide ourselves for this or that direction. This repeated experience of the necessary suspension of judgement, this always renewed impossibility of any decision gradually leads us to lose the ancient craving for a fugitive truth. And perhaps it will happen, if the experience repeats itself enough times, that we reach, as a casual consequence of epokhé, that tranquillity we have formerly sought in the impossible possession of truth. It will happen because we no longer get anxious about a truth that does not seem fit to seek anymore. It is also important to highlight that this new sceptical posture does not derive from any philosophical decision. We neither establish nor demonstrate anything, our philosophical investigation does not have a positive result to offer. Our epokhé is just the state in which we find ourselves when an exhausting investigation, undertaken with rigour and a critical mind, leaves us precisely in no condition to choose or decide. For this reason, instead of saying that we practise an epokhé, it is more adequate to say we remain in epokhé, or we are in epokhé.

2. We have suspended judgement about every philosophical assertion we consider. And, of course, our expectation can only be that we will be analogously [120] led to epokhé with regard to any philosophical assertion we come to consider. Nevertheless, what kind of assertion philosophy has not done, or could not do? What kind of assertion concerning the truth of things could be immune to epokhé? Some are inclined to maintain that the sceptical suspension of judgement cannot be extended to the everyday truths of common men, the most basic ones that, above all, guide their daily lives. One would say that, having once abandoned our speculative concerns, we could find a safe refuge in a more tranquil truth, possessed and known by ordinary men. A truth that doesn't need any philosophical justification or foundation because it is directly extracted from human immersion in the world. In this way safe and reliable, even irrecusable, knowledge would be at our disposal, if we were capable of finding again within ourselves the common men we are, who now lie hidden under the extravagant clothes of the philosopher seeking philosophical truth. One could perhaps be even more daring and propose a refounding of philosophy, through a philosophical promotion of the common view of the world, drawn from that wilful immersion in the common life of men3.

What we have here is actually a clever stratagem to try to save in extremis the domain of reality, truth, and knowledge – in sum, the domain of dogmatic philosophy – in the face of the battering of sceptical questioning. A stratagem that nonetheless cannot conceal the philosophical decision that inspires it. A decision that resembles any other philosophical decision even if the paths by which it was arrived at were less trivial. It is a philosophical posture that, by its nature and project, cannot elude the mode of diaphonía, since it must necessarily integrate itself in the perennial conflict of philosophies, its explicit pretension to the contrary notwithstanding.

The “common truths” have frequently been the object of philosophical reflexion. Depending on doctrinal preferences philosophers have emphasised or minimised the undeniable variation in time and space, from community to community, from culture to culture, from epoch to epoch of these common truths. Or their customary conflict with scientific doctrines, which usually prevailed, obtaining acceptance, and that once vulgarised were diffused on common sense, promoting gradual overcoming of the collective ancient beliefs. Considering and thematising such “common truths”, philosophies most often intended to denounce and demystify them, but sometimes to endorse and promote them philosophically. Interpreted by the philosophies in this or that way, rejected or accepted, justified or considered immune to any need of justification, these “truths” have long since been integrated into philosophical disputes and included in the diaphonía of philosophies.

It is indeed a very strange procedure, then, to try to take them collectively as an evident expression of human knowledge of reality and truth about the world, allegedly sheltering them from [121] philosophical polemics and judging it possible to promote them philosophically. At the same time this spares them the need for any justification (even if the philosophical undertaking of giving foundations should, at the end of the day, be condemned to failure and frustration). Rarely does one stop to consider that words like “knowledge”, “reality”, “truth”, in their trivial and common use, are too vague and obscure to bear the philosophical weight one wants to place on them. Nor is it properly remembered that no assertion can ever acquire any cognitive dimension simply because it is accepted and repeated by society as a whole; philosophy and science have taught us to criticise collective myths.

The common man, when he makes himself dogmatic – as he does in many areas – frequently shows an exaggerated attachment to his own point of view, intending his assertions to be absolute and indisputable truths. He scarcely relativizes them; he rarely refrains from seeing positions that differ from his own as errors or falsehoods. He is like that individually, and collectively not less. Such dogmatism does not differ, in this respect, from philosophical dogmatism, except that the former lacks the sophistication of the latter. It is at times a coarse and stubborn dogmatism, less inclined to justify itself. Its acceptance of the “common truths” shares in the obstinate desire for the absolute, nor is it sustained by the argumentative structure of philosophic discourse.

For this reason, it seems rather a symptom of philosophical despair to want to shield these truths from the critical questioning of philosophy, to assign them preferentially the virtue of truthfulness, to confer upon them an aspect of knowledge, and an unknown deep kinship to reality. It is as if, in the vain attempt of erecting a dike against the danger of scepticism, which sweeps away all dogmatisms, one should resort to an exceptional and confessedly unjustifiable form of dogmatism, in the pious hope of brandishing against scepticism a supreme and decisive weapon.

However, this stratagem shows itself to be powerless before the sceptical challenge. The same procedures that corrode the dogmas of the philosophers also throw into doubt the dogmatic assertions of the common man. Analogous arguments are applied to them with identical results. And our epokhé, thus, equally affects any apophantic discourse (in the etymological sense of the term), be it philosophical or non-philosophical, sophisticated or trivial, accompanied or unaccompanied by an alleged justification, in short every discourse that attempts to “make us see” the truth. It touches every human belief that, formulated in a judgment, is proposed as real knowledge of any aspect of the world.

3. What, then, remains for us after epokhé? Do we not accept or approve anything anymore? If we do not assert anything as true, if we renounce all pretence to knowledge, if we no longer believe anything, if we denounce all apophantic judgments as dogmas [122] that a critical and rigorous thought cannot endorse, what will be our situation? Is living still possible? How can we act without believing? The Stoics tirelessly repeated this objection to Pyrrhonism, and Hume took it up with vivacity in a passage that became deservedly famous. The generalised epokhé seemed to inexorably condemn us to inaction and death. The sincere practice of the sceptical philosophy, if possible, would guide us to a quick and unhappy conclusion of our “miserable existence” (cf. Hume 1983, p. 160), putting a very sad end to our philosophical journey.

Foolishness and absurdity! But the philosophical ignorance of Greek scepticism is – or must be – huge, because objections like these trivially repeat themselves even up to our own day. However, since Hellenistic times, the Pyrrhonian philosophy was aware of these objections and had answered them.

Let us imagine a young student of philosophy, deeply imbued with the old philosophical craving for reaching a decision that, one day, would allow him—once the nature and goal of the philosophical enterprise has been defined for him—to arrive at a firm and unequivocal position in favour of a certain set of philosophical dogmata. Yet for now, he has not realized his hope, and although he has already confronted different systems and schools of philosophy, he still does not feel able to make a choice. He has been tempted by different solutions, but careful examination of the doctrines that criticise and refuse them have left him cautious and averse to rash decisions. He recognizes that he is still unable to maintain a thesis or make philosophical assertions.

Nonetheless, let us also suppose our young philosopher has already advanced sufficiently in his studies and reflexions to have become aware that, with regard to the worldview of common sense, which like everyone else, he certainly shares a good part of, he can no longer share the dogmatic, not very critical attitude of the ordinary man, which for a long time was also his own. He has learned to problematise the ultimate truth of the sentences that like everyone he daily utters. He cannot bestow on them an effective cognitive dimension, and he questions in the final analysis their relationship to the real, whatever this might mean. He is still unable to offer any philosophical interpretation of his everyday experience. Seeking such interpretation, he follows philosophical paths. However, while he walks them, he lives the life of everyman.

Very well, it is in no other situation that our Pyrrhonian philosopher finds himself, who constantly suspended his judgement through a critical reflexion upon the doctrines. Except, of course, in what concerns his expectations. Even now our young philosopher sees, so to speak, truth on the horizon. He longs to find it, even as he acknowledges that he does not yet know precisely what it is. While the more experienced philosopher, whose mind has been conditioned by the repeated experience of epokhé, has other perspectives, which truth does not inhabit. Concerning, however, the current definitions and decisions, [123] options and dogmas, they are both in exactly the same condition: both are in epokhé.

Would one say, then, because our young philosopher has not yet philosophically come to a decision and because he no longer assumes the dogmatising posture of common men, that he is unable to act and live, that he condemns himself to inaction and death, at least if he is sincere and consistent with himself? This would be a manifestly unreasonable evaluation of his situation, and nobody would say as much. This already makes plain to us that there is something very wrong with that stoic and humean objection against the Pyrrhonian epokhé; only a total ignorance of the nature of the sceptical attitude may explain it. Still, the question is important and deserves a closer look.

4. What has changed for us after we have repeatedly suspended our judgements? In a certain sense, it would be correct to say that nothing has changed. I see myself sitting in front of my desk, putting my reflexions on paper. My dog, José Ricardo, is lying at my feet. I hear the distant noise of cars on the highway. Several ideas come to my mind, and suddenly I remember that I have to call a friend and ask him for the information I desire. I could go on describing my current “sensible” and “intelligible” experience, and it certainly seems to me that it is quite similar and analogous to innumerable other recent or former experiences, when I still had a dogmatic conception of the world. I continue to see, to feel, and, in a certain sense, also to think as before. In other words, the epokhé has in no way affected - but then how could it have affected? - the immediate contents, so to speak, of my everyday experience. This experience and these contents are had by me, and I cannot refuse them. Everyone has such experiences, which they neither refuse nor can refuse them; they all acknowledge and accept them.

What we cannot refuse, what offers itself irrecusably to our sensibility and understanding – if we allow ourselves to use an illustrious philosophical term – is called by us sceptics, phenomenon (tò phainómenon, what appears). What appears to us imposes itself on us with necessity, we can do nothing but assent to it, it is absolutely unquestionable in its appearance. That things appear to us as they do, this does not depend on our deliberation or our choice. This is not owing to a decision of our will. What appears to us is not, as such, an object of investigation, precisely because it cannot be doubted. It makes no sense to argue against the appearance of what appears, such argumentation would be ineffective and absurd.

What appears, i.e., this phenomenic residue of epokhé, this phenomenic content of our daily experience is, so to speak and in a certain sense, the given; it is given to us. What appears appears to us, appears to someone. If one prefers to put it in a dogmatic vein, we should say that the phenomenon constitutes itself as essentially relative, it is relative to the person to whom it appears. We do not even understand how one could speak of a pure appearing.



[124] The philosophies have discussed whether phenomena are sensible (aisthetá) or intelligible (noetá, nooúmena), or both. As to the nature of phenomena, we have suspended our judgement. Likewise, we suspend judgment concerning the ultimate nature of the distinction between sensibility and understanding, which does not prevent us from, having once learned the philosophical vocabulary, using it in a looser way without any doctrinal commitment. We shall say, then, that a good part of phenomena offer themselves to us as sensible, imposing themselves on our sensibility, while a good part of them, perhaps the majority, appear to our understanding, offering themselves to us as intelligible. But we say these things without dogmatising. For us, it is above all a didactical distinction, to which some dogmatic speculation intended to provide an adequate foundation and a rigid and safe conceptualisation.

I see a desk in front of me, and I touch it. I have the experience of its colour, its form, its solidity. These are phenomena I will not hesitate to call sensible. But it also seems that I have before me an object that is not reducible to what I sensibly perceive of it. It appears to me, for example, that it has parts and properties that my senses are not perceiving, that it remains in existence while no one is observing it, etc. This is also a phenomenon concerning this desk as it appears to me; here I must certainly speak of an intelligible phenomenon. As it is also an intelligible phenomenon to me that there are deserts in distant regions of the planet, that my life will after some time come to an end, or that it is appropriate to distinguish between the sensible and the intelligible, although without rigidity. Such examples are easy and trivial, and could be multiplied to infinity.

Actually, we are sensitive to the fact that discourse seems to permeate all our experience of things and to mix, to a greater or lesser degree, with every phenomenon. Perhaps we could say more, we could say it represents a constitutive ingredient of the whole phenomenal field, so to speak. Hence, we will not object to those who say every observation is impregnated with “theory”. To acknowledge this is not to dogmatise about the phenomena (at least, it is possible to do so without dogmatising), but even here we are only relating what appears to us. It is indeed appropriate to insist that recognition of this intelligible dimension of phenomena must not be confused with the attribution of any epistemological or ontological privilege to thought or lógos.

Much of what appears to us appears as an object of a common experience to us and to many others, if not to a large part of other human beings in the world of our phenomenal experience. That is, it also appears to them (that this is so, then, is to us an intelligible phenomenon). Though these are very numerous, to be sure, there are phenomena that offer themselves to us as objects of an experience that is exclusively ours. Those others, we call “common phenomena”.

What appears to us, appears here and now. Yet, much of what appears to us here and now appears to us here and now as something that already existed, independently [125] of having been observed or thought by someone; or again as something which will continue to exist in the future, independently of us, and maybe outliving us; or both things perhaps. What here and now appears to us has not always appeared to us and may have never appeared to us before. Moreover, much of what once appeared to us no longer appears. Most certainly what appears to us today – in the sensible sphere evidently, but also in the intelligible sphere – will no longer appear to us tomorrow. And just as much of what appears to us does not appear to others, so much of what appears to others does not appear to us—it has neither appeared to us before nor will appear to us later. So it appears to us.

Classical philosophy distinguished, as we know, between being and appearance, by metaphysically transposing the trivial distinction between deceptive appearances of things and their correct and ordinary manifestation. It privileged being as necessary and stable, rejecting appearance as unstable and contingent. Sometimes it understood the appearance as a being’s manifestation, even if superficial; but, most frequently, it considered it as a deceiving appearance that dissimulates and hides being. Appearance becomes then a form of minimal being or simply non-being. And philosophy, making itself metaphysics, set itself the task of discovering and revealing being behind or beyond appearance. Showing by which paths one can and must cross the barrier raised by “appearances”, to reach a true knowledge of being. The traditional links of philosophical kinship between being, knowledge and truth were thus established. Pyrrhonism suspended, certainly, the judgement on metaphysical doctrines and put being in brackets, questioning the philosophes’ discourse. In contrast, it honoured metaphysics in its own way, by preserving the old vocabulary of appearance, and calling phenomenon the content of our experience, which out of spontaneous necessity removes itself from the scope of epokhé. We sceptics acknowledge ourselves to be immersed in phenomenicity.

5. Sticking thoroughly to phenomena, it is important for us to distinguish clearly between the phenomenon and “what is said about the phenomenon” (cf. Sextus Empiricus, PH 1, 19-20), i.e., the (philosophical) interpretation one makes of phenomena or of the discourse that expresses it. We say, for example, that honey is sweet, or that this event was simultaneous with another, or that ingratitude is a serious defect. Thus, we report how things appear to us, we describe the phenomena, trivially using common language. We understand “is” as “appears”, or, more precisely, it is as if we said: “It appears to us that honey is sweet”, “It appears to us that this event was simultaneous with that other”. Not that we have such formulations in mind in the common circumstances of daily life; we are simply apt to reformulate our discourse, if one tries to make a metaphysical interpretation of it, so that there is no risk of such interpretation.

By saying, for example, that honey is sweet, we do not commit ourselves concerning the real nature of honey or sweetness, about the possible substantial reality of honey, about [126] whether sweetness is or is not a real property inherent in it, nor about the nature of the relationship between subject and predicate; neither are we presupposing any of this, since we suspend our judgement on all these questions. Because none of these is the phenomenon, but “what is said about it”. We suspend our judgement as to whether honey is sweet hóson epì tô lógo (cf., PH 1.20; also PH 1.215; PH 2.95; PH 3.29, 3.65 etc.), i.e., while this sentence (“honey is sweet”) is subject of philosophical reason, that is, while it is the object of dogmatic interpretation or commentary. Having clarified this point, we allow ourselves to use the current language of men, using it to express what appears to us.

We say, then, that our discourse is not “thetic”, as the dogmatic discourse is. Because dogmatic discourse “posits” what it says as real (cf. PH 1.14). It assumes itself as true expression of real knowledge; it intends to transcend itself and to transcend empeiría. It proposes itself, so to speak, as a vehicle of this transcendence. It wants to make us see “how things really are”, beyond “mere” appearance. But, to us, who question the apophantic pretension of discourse, who were led to epokhé by such questioning, this discourse is a mere expression of our experience; it states its contents, it says what appears. The words, forms and procedures of expression, which we were conditioned to use to manifest our experience and life, by our society and culture, constitute our everyday language. The latter is always loose and precarious, even if we try our best to improve it. Therefore, we do not postulate any mysterious relationship of correspondence between words and things. Neither do we understand that language has the power to establish anything, nor do we recognise any thickness that it would be philosophy’s duty to penetrate. A certainly effective instrument of our insertion in the phenomenic world, our language, as the philosopher said, is part of our form of life.

6. Let us imagine some philosophers joyfully assembled, drinking draught beer, around a table in a bar (perhaps a Bergsonian, a Hegelian, a Kantian, a Berkeleyian, an Aristotelian and, as a counterbalance, a sceptic). Let us also suppose they are not talking about philosophy. Their major philosophical differences obviously do not prevent them from understanding one another or the waiter concerning countless things, or even perhaps from agreeing on several issues (such as the temperature or the economic crisis), or from identically describing objects and similar events, as ordinary men in the "marketplace"4 do. They and everybody tranquilly recognise as obvious that experiences of daily life are the object of consensual descriptions from philosophers who, nonetheless, are divided by serious differences of doctrine. Because this is about the “common phenomena” [127] which irrecusably impose themselves on everyone and which philosophy never dreamed of rejecting (no idealist philosopher ever denied that Wittgenstein wore underpants under his trousers5).

But if all those philosophers relate the phenomena either in the same way or in a very similar way, they disagree greatly in what they would say about the phenomena (except the sceptic, who would say nothing). Their different doctrines offer distinct and incompatible interpretations of this common experience which they consensually describe; those doctrines interpret the phenomena in different ways. Perhaps it would not be difficult to imagine how each one of those dogmatic philosophers would analyse, from the point of view of his particular philosophy, some banal statement on his current experience (“this beer came warm”, for example). Each of them would certainly reject the interpretations of all the others and would insist that his own philosophical interpretation of the common phenomenon under discussion is the only one capable of integrally coping with it. Their doctrinal disagreement is total, as much as their “pre-philosophical” agreement concerning the phenomenon and how to describe it is, let us suppose, complete.

To remember such more than obvious trivialities has its importance here. By the way, in philosophy, it is very important to remember something everyone knows. What we want to emphasise here is that the sceptic philosopher, who suspends his judgement about all those interpretations of the phenomenon, by confessing he has no criteria with which to decide the controversy, he moves within that non-philosophical common terrain, in which occurs the consensual description of the experienced6 common situation. He acknowledges himself incapable of transcending the modest perspective of the marketplace. It does not matter to him that each dogmatic philosopher proclaims solidarity between the consensual experience and the interpretation made by his particular doctrine. The fact that each of the others rejects this interpretation and that the same occurs with each proposed interpretation, this insuperable diaphonía that, here as in every similar case, leads to the sceptic epokhé, implies, in the sceptic’s eyes, something like a philosophical neutralisation of that common terrain, preserving and guaranteeing its pre-philosophical status. We Pyrrhonists delightfully recognise ourselves to be confined to this common terrain.

But philosophical doctrines will continue to dispute endlessly about this and about the common discourse that deals with it. They will ask themselves about the real meaning and [128] import of this discourse; they will discuss its immediate or possibly profound veracity, its possible correspondence with the reality of things, its possible referentiality. They will discuss the possible cognitive dimension of the common experience consensually described and its relationship with the “real world”. They will attribute or deny reality to the phenomenon. They will equate, or not, phenomenon and representation (they will possibly equate phenomenon and thought). They will consider, sometimes, the phenomenon as the result of an interaction between subject and object. They will debate the subjective or objective, or mixed status of the phenomenon. They will say the phenomenon is reliable or unreliable. They will make the phenomenon either the road or, quite the contrary, the veil and occultation, transposable or non-transposable barrier, which separates us from being, provisionally or permanently. In a thousand ways they will comment, explain and interpret the phenomenon. From these multiple possible interpretations will rise different ontologies and theories of knowledge.

We Pyrrhonists, however, because we are in epokhé about all these things, do not attribute any epistemological or ontological status to the phenomenon. We do not have to offer any philosophical theory of it. We repeat only that we acknowledge it in its simple appearance and relate this experience of ours. We always regard with due suspicion the philosophical lógos, which is so deceiving that, at times, it nearly snatches the phenomenon from under our eyes (cf. Sextus Empiricus PH 1.20).

7. It is certainly correct to say that we represent to ourselves what appears to us. Ancient Pyrrhonism had already described the phenomenon as what imposes itself on us with necessity “in accordance with a passive representation7 (cf. PH 1.13, 1.19, 1.193 etc.). The Stoic theory of knowledge privileged the notion of representation (phantasía), modification or alteration of our soul that may perhaps copy the real object in a specular way and present it to us in an adequate and faithful manner. The philosophers of the New Academy proclaimed the inevitability of epokhé with regard to this purported knowledge of reality by means of our representations and questioned the alleged representativeness of these latter. This did not prevent these philosophers, it seems, from focusing on them; Carneades, in particular, gives the impression of having made the representations into our only unquestionable data8.

The Academicians did not concern themselves with the phenomenon, leaving this task to the subsequent development of Pyrrhonist philosophy, restored by Aenesidemus against the Academy. It was in this period that the old notion of phenomenon was redeveloped and the problematic of representation analysed from a new angle. It is worth mentioning here that Pyrrhonism seems to have hesitated with regard to this issue and, even, to have been inclined to identify [129] representation and phenomenon. The passages from Sextus Empiricus on this question are not clear and their interpretation is very problematic and for this reason controversial.

Limited to living our phenomenic experience and contenting ourselves with reporting it, we recognise, of course, that what appears to us and necessarily moves us towards assent is intimately associated with certain “representations”. We do not hesitate to say that we represent to ourselves what appears to us, nor does it seem to us that we should – could we, in any case? – avoid this way of expressing ourselves. Why, by the way, would we consider doing such a thing? Why should we reject, at the end of the day, the use of a terminology already incorporated in the everyday language of men of a certain culture, already fairly widespread, in spite of its philosophical origins? We speak, as everyone does, about how we represent things to ourselves, about the objects and their representation in us, especially because this way of expression seems well-suited to our experience.

We are also not insensitive to the fact that a theory of knowledge built upon the notion of representation seductively invites us to confuse phenomenon and representation. Because it seems a strong temptation to say that, by suspending our judgement about the nature and reality of things, we end up strictly confined to our representations, the only thing that is left to us and which constitutes what is immediately given to us, the only residue of our epokhé. We would have access to nothing but the universe of our own representations. One step further and we would be pointing out that what appears to us and irrecusably offers itself, what we call "phenomena", are always our representations. The so-called phenomenic world would be nothing but the set of our representations.

On the other hand, we are always eager to recall that at each moment we are merely reporting our experience, and that, when speaking of the phenomenon, it is our páthos that we are reporting (cf. PH 1.15, 1.197, 1.203 etc.). This form of expression, by the way, led some of the ancients to assimilate Pyrrhonism with the Cyrenaic school, since the latter maintained that we could only apprehend our páthe, i.e., our affections and experiences (cf. PH 1.215).

The situation, then, seems ripe – as it has been since the time of Hellenistic Philosophy and with the background of the Stoic theory of representation – for Pyrrhonism to convert itself into something like a Philosophy of Mind, as we say today, for which it would suffice to interpret phenomena as representations, as affections, and purely “mental” experiences. Besides, some texts by Sextus Empiricus, read from the modern mentalist perspective, seem to strongly suggest the implicit presence of a philosophy of mind in his conception of Pyrrhonism. To make it explicit, however, it lacked the conceptual resources and the language that post-Cartesian philosophy, especially in the wake of Locke, came to develop.

Thus, Pyrrhonian scepticism could apparently characterize itself as a philosophy of subjectivity, and it is precisely this interpretation, at least since Hegel, [130] that many have offered. It is certain that the Pyrrhonists suspend judgment concerning the conception, nature and reality of the soul, as well as the nature and reality of body and matter. They suspend judgment concerning the so-called faculties of the soul, the reality of the so-called intellect, and its alleged power to know itself (cf. PH 2.57-8; M 7.348-50). I say that things appear to me and that I suspend judgment concerning their reality, but also concerning the substantial reality of a thinking subject to which those pronouns would supposedly refer. I do not attribute to them any reality to which they might refer. Having questioned the thetic character of the self-reflexivity of consciousness, Pyrrhonism does not leave room for the emergence of Cogito.

Modern scepticism, Humean scepticism in particular, also rejected the Cogito, by joining a mentalist philosophy that identified the self with a mind conceived as a bundle or collection of our representations (cf. Hume 1992, p. 207, 252, 634). So by identifying phenomenon and representation, saying that phenomenon is a páthos of ours and privileging the subjective dimension of our experience, Pyrrhonism would have been led towards a kind of skepticism akin to Hume’s mentalist one. The Scottish philosopher would have brought to fruition, thanks to the conceptual resources furnished by Locke's empiricism, under the impact of Cartesianism, the latent potentialities in the old Pyrrhonism. At the core of scepticism there would always have resided, however partially concealed and covered up, a mentalist subjectivism of the Humean type waiting to be made explicit.

8. However, Greek Pyrrhonism didn't take that step or follow this path. Nor could it have done so, on pain of inconsistency, given that such a position would necessarily represent a kind of preference, even if involuntary and merely implicit, for a certain philosophical commitment. This is obviously intolerable for the philosophers of epokhé9, who would have been committing themselves to a very particular philosophical interpretation of phenomenon. Pyrrhonism would be unable to conceal its status as an involuntary and ashamed member of the diaphonic choir of dogmatic doctrines. Modern scepticism, however, adopted this mentalist position, equating phenomenicity with the “interior” world.



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