On Confronting Species-Specific Skepticism as We Near the End of the Twentieth Century

  • James M. Edie
Part of the Contributions to Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 25)


Ever since Socrates “called philosophy down from heaven to earth” to locate it in the cities and in the lives of individual human beings by exhorting them to turn within to their souls and to the concepts (logoi) that dwell therein, to turn to a knowledge of oneself first of all, to examine one’s own inner life in its acts of knowing, believing, desiring, willing, evaluating, giving meaning and intelligibility to the chaos of earths, airs, fires, waters and bones, sinews, humors, and joints, which confront us in raw nature, Western philosophy has seen the necessary turn to the foundations of experience and of reality-as-experienced which has come to be called “foundationalism” in philosophy. In their many different ways all of the greatest philosophers of our tradition have been “foundationalists”: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel and Husserl, to mention only the “giants,” who together and separately constitute the backbone of Western philosophy.


Conscious Awareness Human Consciousness Perceptual Consciousness High Intelligence Transcendental Philosophy 
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    Plato also (Meno, 75B) considered these relationships to be “materially” apriori: there cannot be brightness without color, or color without surface, or surface without extension. One cannot be present without the other as “parts” of a whole even though they belong to different “logical” categories (see J. M. Edie, Edmund Husserl’s Phenomenology, 1987, pp. 43–44). Or see Aquinas, In Physicorum Aristotelis Librum Secundum, cap. 2, lec. 3: Multa sunt conjuncta secundum rem, quorum unum non est de intellectu alterius: sicut album et musicum conjunguntur in aliquo subjecto, et tarnen unum non est de intellectu alterius, et ideo unum separatim intelligi potest sine alio. Et hoc est unum intellectum esse abstractum ab alio. Manifestum est autem quod posteriora non sunt de intellectu priorum, sed e converso; unde priora possunt intelligi sine posterioribus, et non e converse Sicut patet quod animal est prius homine, et homo prius hoc homine (nam homo se habet ex additione ad animal, et hic homo ex additione ad hominem); et propter hoc homo non est de intellectu animalis, nec Socrates de intellectu hominis…. Thus, if there is Socrates, there is a man, if there is a man, there is a rational animal, if there is a rational animal, there is an animal, if there is an animal, there is a living being, if there is a living being, there is a being (and not nothing), but, in all this, we have not here said anything about the real world, but only about the necessary apriori relationships of concepts which are implied in our experience of the real world in order to make it intelligible; thus, wherever there is real experience, the possibility of apriori rules of knowledge, both formal and “material,” come into play.Google Scholar
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    M. Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy Of Perception and Other Essays, J. M. Edie (Ed.) (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964, p. 10 [italics mine]). In the title essay of the same collection, “The Primacy of Perception,” Merleau-Ponty makes the same universal and objective claim for perception as the “founding term” of thought: If a friend and I are standing before a landscape and I attempt to show my friend something which I see and which he does not yet see, we cannot account for it by saying that I see something in my own world and that I attempt, by sending verbal messages, to give rise to an analogous perception in the world of my friend. There are not two numerically distinct worlds plus a mediating language which alone would bring us together. There is—and I know it very well if I become impatient with him—a demand that what I see be seen by him also. What I see, from where I stand is objectively there for any observer who would stand where I am standing. It makes no difference if I might later turn out to be mistaken; right now my perception imposes an objective demand that what I see can be seen by anyone. “The thing imposes itself not as true for every intellect, but as real for every subject who is standing where I am” (p. 17). Merleau-Ponty’s purpose in this essay is to examine “the relation between intellectual consciousness and perceptual consciousness” (p. 19), and yet, in this very essay, he admits that he likes to be thought of as a “skeptic” in the literal sense of the word: One who goes to see, who looks around, who practices skepsis. In his later writings on linguistic structuralism, between 1949–1959, he took up the problem of the relationships which obtain between perceptual consciousness and language. As was his wont, given the dialectical cast of his mind, he insisted on two contradictories, namely that there was the possibility of the universality of communication based on “algorithmic” rules (The Prose of the World, J. O’Neill (Trans.) (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973, p. 115f), of thought and language, but at the same time he seems to have feared and denigrated Husserl’s “pure logical grammar” and to want to suggest, almost as a precursor of Derrida and Rorty, that the only universality necessary was to be found in the existential and “oblique passage from a given language that I speak… to another language that I learn” (Signs, R. McCleary (Trans.) (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964, p. 87). See also my foreword to Merleau-Ponty’s Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language, H. J. Silverman (Trans.) (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973, p. xxviif.), and also my monograph on Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy of Language (University Press of America, 1987, pp. 50f, 80f). Merleau-Ponty—because of this inner contradiction in his thought which tore him between Husserl’s logic and its realization in a form of structural linguistics, on the one hand, and his commitment to an existentialism of communication, on the other—could never bring himself to finish what was to have been, in his own words, his most important work, The Prose of the World, but simply abandoned it around 1959, put in a drawer to be published only posthumously by Claude Lefort, and sought solace, after a philosophical breakdown, in the unfinished remnants of the last pages of The Visible and the Invisible which remind some of the kind of incoherent “babble” for which Aristotle reproached Heraclitus, or which we find in Kant’s Opus Posthumum.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • James M. Edie
    • 1
  1. 1.Northwestern UniversityUSA

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