Sensation & Hesitation: Haptic Scepticism as an Ethics of Touching [chapter]

Rachel Aumiller
2021 A Touch of Doubt  
It is said that seeing is believing. Typically, this adagei st aken to mean that sight is the strongest empirical affirmation of what we believet ob et rue. And yet, as the adagealsoimplies, although sight maystrengthen one'sbelief, it does not guarantee certain knowledge.I no pposition to sight,t ouch presents itself as proof for what is real. Touchcan serveasareality check that awakens an individual from her slumber. We pinch ourselvest oc onfirm we are not dreaming. We slap ac omrade across
more » ... p ac omrade across the cheek to bring him to his senses.¹ This volume traces an alliance drawnt hroughout the history of Western philosophya nd religion between belief and sight on one side and doubt/certainty and touch on the other.Ineverydayspeech, the sceptic is often associated with the figure of "Doubting Thomas":the disbeliever with the compulsion to touch what others accept on appearance alone. Whereas the dogmatist mayb es atisfied with believing what she sees, the sceptic is not satisfiedu ntil she has thrust her finger into the very site of her uncertainty. Although the sceptic has been framed as the doubter with the compulsion to touch and thus overcomed oubt,t he history of philosophical scepticism questions the reliability of the senses, giving particular attention to touch. We find sceptical accounts of touch in Pyrrho'sm odes, which describet he inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies of our tactile sensations (our pleasure and pain, our sense of coolness and warmth).² We maya lso consider René Descartes'ss uspicion of the parchment that he holds in his own hands (not to mention the existenceo fh is ownh ands), which he performs as an exercisei ns cepticism.³ Other classicals ceptical arguments about touch abound: Perhaps Ia md reaming( dreaminge veno ft he sensation of pinching myself awake). Perhaps Ia mn ot the active knower-the one who touches-perhaps Ia mi nstead the one who is touched-by spirits, by an evil genius, by illness, by madness.⁴  Throughout this chapterIalternatebetween different pronouns:she, he, they.Mypronoun choice reflects both ac ritical and playfulp erspective on gender.  Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Scepticism,trans. Julia Annas and Jonathan Barnes (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press,1994): haptic sensation as subjective and situational (I.56,(80)(81)(82)(83)(84)(85)(86)(87)109, II.52); haptic sensation as contradictory or paradoxical .  René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy,t rans. Donald A. Cress (Indianapolis:H ackett, 1993).  Plato's Theaetetus addresses debates surroundingt he reliability of sensation in connection to the characterization of knowledge itself as ad ream (Plato, Theaetetus,i nTheaetetusa nd Sophist,trans. Christopher Rowe[ Cambridge:C ambridge University Press,2015], 201d8-6c2). The sceptical trope of questioningsensation as aproduct of dreams,illness, or madness stretches fromP latonism to modhttps://doi.
doi:10.1515/9783110627176-002 fatcat:bxmnav5libd5nd3a2mfsi72qae