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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Epoché (ἐποχή, epokhē, "suspension") is an ancient Greek term which, in its philosophical usage, describes the theoretical moment where all judgments about the existence of the external world, and consequently all action in the world, are suspended. One's own consciousness is subject to immanent critique so that when such belief is recovered, it will have a firmer grounding in consciousness. This concept was developed by the Greek skeptics and plays an implicit role in skeptical thought, as in René Descartes' epistemic principle of methodic doubt. The term was popularized in philosophy by Edmund Husserl. Husserl elaborates the notion of 'phenomenological epoché' or 'bracketing' in Ideas I. Through the systematic procedure of 'phenomenological reduction', one is thought to be able to suspend judgment regarding the general or naive philosophical belief in the existence of the external world, and thus examine phenomena as they are originally given to consciousness.

Epoché and skepticism

Epoché played an important role in Pyrrhonism, the skeptical philosophy named after Pyrrho. The Skeptics used to refer to themselves as zetetikoi ("searchers"). They do not dogmatically assert the inability to know anything: the word skepsis means "inquiry, examination." According to them, only by refusing either to affirm or to deny the truth of what we cannot know, can we achieve ataraxia.

Without actually claiming that we do not know anything, Pyrrhonism argues that the preferred attitude to be adopted is epoché, i.e., the suspension of judgment or the withholding of assent. It would be a contradiction to boldly assert that nothing can be known since that very proposition itself would then be elevated to the status of something which is known. None of this entails that we have no rationale to choose one kind of action over another; rather, one kind of life or one kind of action cannot be definitively said to be the 'correct' way or action. Instead of a life of inaction, the Skeptic insists that one normally ought to live according to customs, laws, and traditions.

Epoché and phenomenology

Bracketing (phenomenology)

In phenomenological research epoché is described as a process involved in blocking biases and assumptions in order to explain a phenomenon in terms of its own inherent system of meaning. One actual technique is known as bracketing. This involves systematic steps to "set aside" various assumptions and beliefs about a phenomenon in order to examine how the phenomenon presents itself in the world of the participant.

See also

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