Monday, November 24, 2008

Question of the Moment: Careful Inquiry

Although I pretend to be a skeptic of sorts, I tend not to doubt but to accept as evident experiential phenomena, including both what classical Pyrrhonian skepticism would classify as phenomena and also noetic experiences. For instance I don't initially doubt a phenomenon of the instant question. ("Is the instant question skeptical?" represents an instant question, if not a very good one–there's the rub.) Of course I have questions. They follow, and I am attitudinally open to examining how phenomena manifest themselves. However, I don't doubt that I can experience something worth calling "an instant question," if only provisionally. I feel that there is some tension between the instant question and a careful program of inquiry, but, provisionally, again, I'd like to set out something called "the experience of inquiry" and see whether there is one kind of experience, or field of experience at play, or whether, in a similar vein, we can investigate something called "the phenomenon of the question," the question phenomenon. In other words, in posing the question of the instant question the aim is to expose beliefs, even beliefs which might only be felt rather than stated explicitly at the start, that may be blocking an inquiry into the phenomenon of the question. (Is this a topic for skepticism whether or not it leads to ataraxia? It would be idiotic to think that skepticism doesn't have topics, but far be it from me to preclude the idiotic. Eh, who knows?)

The Sceptical [Pyrrhonian] persuasion, then, is also called Investigative, from its activity in investigating and inquiring; Suspensive, from the feeling that comes about in the inquirer after the investigation; Aporetic, either (as some say) from the fact that it puzzles over and investigates everything, or else from its being at a loss whether to assert or deny; and Pyrrhonian, from the fact that Pyrrho appears to us to have attached himself to Scepticism more systematically and conspicuously than anyone before him. . . . Scepticism is an ability to set out oppositions among things which appear and are thought of in any way at all, an ability by which, because of the equipollence in the opposed objects and accounts, we come first to suspension of judgment and afterwards to tranquillity.

(Sextus Empiricus, Outline of Scepticism, I, 4, 4, IN Adrian Kuzminski, Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism , Lexington Books, 2008, p. 6)

Kuzminski expresses the opinion that Pyrrhonism should not be thought of as a skepticism, because skepticism has come to mean, principally, the impossibility of inquiry. I disagree, siding with Sextus Empiricus. (I will also be consulting Patrick's Sextus Empiricus and Greek Scepticism on this topic and David Bruzina's Master's thesis, Sextus Empiricus and the Skeptic’s Beliefs (pdf.), but the point here is a simple one of fairness in criticism.) It is the critic of skepticism who is intellectually obligated to understand what "skeptic" means, and to refrain from mischaracterizing various thinkers who identify themselves as skeptics, including those who quite logically identify themselves as being both skeptics and Pyrrhonists. A skeptic is primarily "one who seeks carefully," and secondarily one who is thoughtful or reflective about knowledge (Cf. the Liddel-Scott entry for σκέπτομαι). This is far from saying that Kuzminski has nothing to teach us in making the distinction. I will return in later posts to the theme of whether having as a goal of inquiry ataraxia or any form of living emancipation from suffering that cannot easily be characterized as knowledge might nevertheless be wise, a concept which also stems from looking around, carefully (that is, before it becomes signaling a way; I may always place making a way, or waying, before the Way, and of course I leave that judgment open to question, as I provisionally leave open the possibility of a non-dogmatic, post-Academic, aporetic enlencticism). Speaking for my own way of being skeptical, I will not refrain from investigating my investigative persuasion, though I insist that there are many steps involved, and, as an aside almost, I wonder why emancipation should require investigation, that is, careful inquiry. Is there an abiding episteme of the free? Of happiness? Is care primarily an epistemological method?

Speaking of asides, in Julio Médem's Lovers of the Artic Circle, Otto's primary school teacher claims that eight-year-old brains pose 33 questions per hour. Any clues as to the provenance of that idea, or any similar study of how many questions children pose per hour? Should the process that children go through in becoming adults be our best model for what learning means? (Do we miss grasping what it is that children do when they learn by employing a model of how children become other than themselves, a model perhaps implied by a bourgeois saying of "child"?) (What's the sphere of becoming of the question?) Is the careful question born of the same activity as the instant question? How can the careful inquiry completely turn its back on the instant question? Is it the child who turns his back on the instant question? Next floor: trick questions, returns, the phenomenality of incognitive questions, the automatic "is tranquility bothered by the automatic question?" question–how? (Does that "How?" contribute to the forming of a belief about the thought of the automatic "is tranquility bothered by the automatic question?" question? How? (Should I have rewritten and asked how first, placing a thought about a thought before the writing of a thought?) You see, evidently there is something for me to learn by making a study of Pyrrhonism.)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 6:19 AM.


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