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Short description: Philosophical suspension of judgment

Epoché (ἐποχή epokhē, "cessation"[1]) is an ancient Greek term. In Hellenistic philosophy it is a technical term typically translated as "suspension of judgment" but also as "withholding of assent".[2] In the modern philosophy of Phenomenology it refers to a process of setting aside assumptions and beliefs.


The Pyrrhonists developed the concept of "epoché" to describe the state where all judgments about non-evident matters are suspended to induce a state of ataraxia (freedom from worry and anxiety). The Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus gives this definition: "Epoché is a state of the intellect on account of which we neither deny nor affirm anything." This concept is similarly employed in Academic Skepticism but without the objective of ataraxia.

In Stoicism, the concept is used to describe the withholding of assent to Phantasia (impressions). For example, Epictetus uses the term in this manner: "If what philosophers say is true, that in all men action starts from one source, feeling, as in assent it is the feeling that a thing is so, and in denial the feeling that it is not so, yes, by Zeus, and in epoché, the feeling that it is uncertain: so also impulse towards a thing is originated by the feeling that it is fitting, and will to get a thing by the feeling that it is expedient for one, and it is impossible to judge."

Epoché plays an implicit role in subsequent philosophical skeptic thought, as in René Descartes' epistemic principle of methodic doubt. The term was popularized in modern philosophy by Edmund Husserl in 1906. Husserl elaborates the notion of 'bracketing' or 'phenomenological epoché' or 'phenomenological reduction' 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.

Husserl broke epoché into two distinct categories, "universal epoché" and "local epoché", the former having a stronger effect than the latter. Universal epoché required leaving behind all assumptions of existence while local epoché requires setting aside only certain assumptions, often of what is being focused on.

One such way this could be applied is the act of seeing a horse. By using local epoché the viewer would suspend or set aside all prior knowledge of that particular horse, presenting an objective view. In applying universal epoché, the viewer would suspend all knowledge of all horses, or even of all mammals. This essentially creates a blank slate for the object to be viewed as objectively as possible.

Husserl also noted that the very process of using epoché never leads to the complete description of an object. What is subject to change is the relationship between the subject and object through the ever-changing consciousness. Husserl uses the term "intentionality" as new levels of meaning present themselves.


Main page: Philosophy:Pyrrhonism

Epoché plays an important role in Pyrrhonism, the skeptical philosophy named after Pyrrho. Pyrrhonism provides practitioners with techniques for achieving epoché through the use of the Ten Modes of Aenesidemus, the Five Modes of Agrippa, and the Pyrrhonist maxims.[3] Pyrrhonism is mostly known today through the writings of the Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus whose surviving works appear to be an encyclopedia of Pyrrhonist arguments for inducing epoché across a breadth of philosophical and other intellectual issues of antiquity.[4] Sextus Empiricus was able to elaborate on the 10 tropes of Aenesidemus and argue syllogistic proofs in every area of speculative knowledge. Pyrrho was the beginning and the foundation for Pyrrhonism, a philosophical movement. He was also regarded as the founder of ancient skepticism.[5]


Main page: Philosophy:Bracketing (phenomenology)

Epoché, or bracketing in phenomenological research, 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.[6] This is a general predisposition one must assume before commencing phenomenological study. 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.[7]

In phenomenological experience, finding the intention or the reason behind an object’s existence is more important than just knowing if something exists or not. Husserl believed that through bracketing our own conscious experience could be better understood. Intentional consciousness combines both objective, the lack of personal feelings or opinions towards the subject, and subjective, application of personal feelings or opinions towards the subject, influences in the process of discovery and exploration. Intentional consciousness is meant to discover why we have certain meanings or values attached to objects or ideas around us. Acting as a pre-categorical method of separating the object from the subject, Husserl believed that this process will not have an end when applied correctly as there are infinite modalities we can connect subjects to objects.[8]

One notable example of Husserl is that of a perceiving a tree, much like the before mentioned horse example. Knowing a Eucalyptus tree from a Yucca tree is an example of local epoché while looking at that same tree, suspending all knowledge of plant life, provides the experience of universal epoché. [8]

Descartes believed the suspension of our present understandings of the world would ultimately lead to a phenomenological description of the subject.[9]

A phenomenologist strives to set aside all scientific certainty and subjective worldly opinions. This will ultimately work towards receiving absolute evidence as it appears in the consciousness of the phenomenologist.[9]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ἐποχή in Liddell and Scott's Greek–English Lexicon.
  2. Benson Mates, "The Skeptic Way" p225
  3. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, I.18.
  4. Morison, Benjamin (2019), Zalta, Edward N., ed., Sextus Empiricus (Fall 2019 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University,, retrieved 2020-10-06 
  5. "Dodge, John Vilas [1909–1991"], Who Was Who (Oxford University Press), 2007-12-01, doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u172122,, retrieved 2021-11-23 
  6. "Husserl, Edmund | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy" (in en-US). 
  7. Christensen, T.M., Brumfield, K.A. (2010). Phenomenological designs: The philosophy of phenomenological research. In C.J Sheperis, J.S Young, & M.H. Daniels (Eds.), Counseling research: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. "The Phenomenological Reduction".
  9. 9.0 9.1 Fariana, Gabriella. "Some reflections on the phenomenological method". 

External links