||epoche or epoché
||suspension of judgment
Here we have not a single word, but a constellation of related terms that also includes
aporia (a state of 'puzzlement'),
elenchus (investigation by question and answer), and
skeptikos (an attitude of undogmatic investigation).
All these relate in a most central way to the mission of Socrates: to call attention to the perils of false opinion (or, more accurately, false opining, the process of forming false opinions) and to propose remedies.
False opining, or
pseudodoxia, is an absolutely fundamental problem with human nature, a near universal source of our errors and unhappiness:
Then do you note that mistakes in action also are due to this ignorance of thinking one knows when one does not?
(Plato, 1st Alcibiades 117d)
This conceit of knowledge is described more fully in Plato's dialogue, Laws:
"The greatest evil to men, generally, is one which is innate in their souls, and which a man is always excusing in himself and so has no way of escaping. I mean what is expressed in the saying that every man is and ought to be dear to himself.... From this same fault arises the common habit of regarding our own ignorance (amathia) as wisdom, and of thinking we know all things when, so to speak, we really know nothing." (Laws 5.731d)
This ignorance, a result of inordinate self-love, egoism, and wishful thinking (by which desires co-opt and distort reasoning) is the very opposite of the intellectual humility required to
As noted, many of our personal problems are the direct result of false opinion. For example, false opinions about bad things -- that they exist, that they are likely to happen, that they would actually harm us -- are the basis of endless worry, anxiety, fear and hatred. False opinions about presumed goods -- that they are good, that they are what we really want, etc., beget endless folly, wasted effort, frustration, etc.
Due to its connection with fear and desire, false opinion contributes to mental disturbance, thus opposing the attainment of mental
Several strategies exist to rid oneself of false opinion, including:
- A habit of suspending judgment (epoche). The
raised this to the level of a fine art.
Sextus Empiricus, for example, presents several formulaic sentences one can tell oneself to counter false opinion. For example, when one catches oneself holding an opinion without basis, or mistaking an opinion for a fact, one may say:
"For every argument in favor of this view, an equally strong argument can be made against it. Hence I conclude nothing at this time."
(Outlines of Pyrrhonism, 1.27)
One can approach questions with a
dialectical attitude. That is, rather than simply accepting a received opinion, one always strives to understand problems in terms of their first principles, and then to logically deduce true opinions from these solid foundations. With such an attitude, one is more interested in learning and discovery than in defending self-serving prejudices.
To overcome the inertia of mental laziness
and the wishful thinking it produces, the virtue of
andreia, or 'manly' courage, is most helpful.