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  • Reply to Charles Goodman
  • Adrian Kuzminski (bio)

I am grateful for Prof. Goodman's comments. Let me try to respond briefly.

He asks me to explain how we can recognize "the pragmata as they are, while refraining from judgments about them." In my reading of Sextus Empiricus, what he calls "appearances" are what we perceive immediately and involuntarily, that is, the thoughts and sensations that are present to us as we actually experience them. Visually, these are shapes and colors and tones; audibly, they are sounds of varying intensity and quality; and so on for the other senses. Similarly, our thoughts—imaginings and memories—are all immediately and involuntarily present as we have them. (If you think of your mother, you cannot but help have a "mental image" of her, and not someone else.)

These various shapes, colors, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and thoughts recur in our experience (we recognize, over and over again, the same shapes, colors, sounds, tastes, touches, smells, and thoughts). But we experience them in varying combinations with one another, and these combinations are subject to change. The sound we recognize as Middle C on the piano may be sharp and staccato, or soft and sustained. We can hear it in conjunction with other notes in, say, a major or minor cord, or in one or another musical phrase, etc. In each of these different contexts Middle C will be recognizable, but it will have a different meaning, each one conditioned by the varying sounds accompanying it. And, of course, if the sound of Middle C is combined with non-musical sounds, or with various sights, thoughts, etc., its range of meanings will be even greater.

Appearances always come to us in one or another such combination, and it is these combinations I believe Sextus understood to be pragmata, or what we can call facts in ordinary English. Recurring thoughts and sensations packaged into changing facts are how we experience them. So far so good in Pyrrhonian terms. The trouble arises when we signify or interpret our experiences. We do this, they tell us, by using one kind of fact to signify another. Sextus gives the examples of interpreting a scar as signifying an earlier wound, or interpreting visible smoke as a sign of a fire not visible to us. As long as we can cash-in or verify our significations, we are fine. This empirical approach is the basis of Pyrrhonian science.

The difficulty comes when we cannot verify our significations. This occurs most commonly, Sextus tells us, when we presume that there is some kind of independently existing entity behind or beyond what we actually [End Page 1007] experience, and we use some term to signify it, such as God, or Soul, or Nature, or Substance, or History, or Race, or Justice, or Good, or Evil, and so on. Our ability to propose signs for things non-evident makes it easy for us to imagine that they exist, have certain characteristics, etc. The Pyrrhonists don't deny the existence of such entities, but suspend judgment and refuse to speculate about them. This leads, they claim, to peace of mind, or liberation from the conflicts and anxieties associated with disputing non-evident things.

Goodman speaks of the "superimposition of concepts onto our experience" as the "mental process" by which our judgments are made. The Pyrrhonists, however, have no concepts, nor any need of them. A concept is itself something non-evident, something separate presumed to determine some of experience. For Pyrrhonists, our ability to use verifiable significations is all that is necessary. The (dogmatic) idea that we need concepts derives from the assumption that our appearances are in themselves unreliable, chaotic, illusory, etc. We need concepts, in this view (best exemplified by Kant), to impose order and stabilize our experience. But for the Pyrrhonists appearances (packaged as pragmata) are already reliable in themselves for most practical purposes, even though they are subject to change, so there is no need to impose a conceptual order upon them, and much harm in doing so.

As a test, Goodman asks me to explain the type-token distinction, particularly how it is that the sentence "Home, sweet home," has...


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pp. 1007-1009
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