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Scepticism and Animal Rationality: the Fortune of Chrysippus' Dog in the History of Western Thought

Scepticism and Animal Rationality: the Fortune of Chrysippus' Dog in the History of Western Thought
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   1 Scepticism, Animal Rationality and the Fortune of Chrysippus' Dog."For one can hardly denythat mankind has a common store of thoughtswhich is transmitted from one generation to another."Gottlob Frege 1  PrologueIf Sherlock Holmes had carried out his "plan of writing a small monograph upon the uses of dogs in the work of the detective", 2 he might have devoted a brief chapter to the only episode, in hisadventures, in which his investigative mind required the help of Pompey, "the pride of the localdraghounds" 3 . Without him, Holmes would have never been able to trace the carriage of Dr Armstrong,and thus solve the case in The Adventure of the Missing Quarter. For once, the master of logicalinferences had to acknowledge the superiority of a dog's nose. This is an old story, of course, and thingshave been more intricate in the history of thought than Holmes could have realised.   2 1."His dog, Watson, does that suggest nothing to you?" 4  Before the industrial revolution and the subsequent development of crime stories, 5 huntingprovided the most common family of images and metaphors to describe intellectual investigation,something that, for obvious sociological reasons, has become less popular nowadays. Hume thoughtthat "there couldn't be two passions more nearly resembling each other, than those of hunting andphilosophy, whatever disproportion may at first sight appear betwixt them". 6 And according to CesareRipa, 7 the symbolic iconology of 'Investigazione' should include, among other details, a dog nosing aftera prey. In order to exemplify such an image, the painter was expected to draw a "Woman with a wingedhead [...] who is pointing with her left forefinger to a dog, which is nosing after a prey. The wings meanthe elevation of the intellect, which by raising itself comes to know the highest and most celestial things.About the meaning of the Dog, the Pyrrhonian philosopher Sextus, in the first book, chap. 14 [of the Outlines , my note], says that it denotes investigation, because, after having chased an animal, reached aplace where three streets meet, and having missed which way the animal went, he smells at the first andat the second road, and if it does not scent that the animal went one or the other way, without furthersmelling he rushes off by the third, arguing that necessarily this must be the path followed by the prey". 8  As Ripa acknowledged, the figure of the inquisitive dog was not his own invention. The idea had alreadybeen used by Sextus Empiricus in the Outlines: "[Chrysippus] declares that the dog makes use of thefifth complex indemonstrable syllogism when, on arriving at a spot where three ways meet[_____________, this is a hapax legomenon in Sextus], after smelling at the two roads by which thequarry did not pass, he rushes off at once by the third without stopping to smell. For, says the oldwriter, the dog implicitly reasons thus: 'The animal went either by this road, or by that, or by the other:but it did not go by this or that, therefore he went the other way'" 9 . The works of Sextus Empiricusrepresent the most influential synthesis of sceptical arguments in the history of philosophy, and it isinteresting to detect their influence on Cesare Ripa himself. Already known to Francesco Filelfo sincethe beginning of the fifteenth century, both the Outlines of Pyrrhonism and Against Mathematicians hadsome diffusion in the following decades, but they were edited for the first time, in Latin translation, onlyin 1562 and then in 1569. 10 Only after those dates did the two texts have a more widespread impact onEuropean culture. Hence, it is not surprising that the description of 'Investigazione' on a Pyrrhonian basisshould appear only in 1613, in the fourth edition of the Iconologia. The fact that the Outlines turn out to   3 be one of the sources of Ripa's fashionable work shows that, by the beginning of the new century, thePyrrhonist author had finally become quite familiar reading. 11  Sextus Empiricus used Chrysippus' dog within the context of "comparisons between mankindand the so-called irrational animals in respect of their sense-impressions", in order to illustrate the first of Aenesidemus' tropoi. The latter aimed at showing that "the same impressions are not produced by thesame objects owing to the differences in animals". 12 As usual, in order to undermine the exaggeratedconfidence in human cognitive capacities, shown by "those conceited braggarts", 13 Sextus assembled arather large collection of different arguments. His essential line of reasoning, however, can be reduced tothe following points: (i) owing to their physical constitution, animals have different sense-impressions; (ii)because of such a diversity of sense-impressions, we must suspend judgement in regard to the nature of reality in itself; (iii) it would be pointless to reply that man is in a better position than any other animal todraw comparisons, and assess the reliability of the respective sense-impressions because: (a) manhimself is closed within the inescapable boundaries of his own cognitive framework; and (b) as far ascognition is concerned, there are many cases in which animals reveal themselves to be plainly superior toman himself; it follows that (iv) animals having disparate perceptual experience, none of them enjoys abetter grasp of the nature of things in themselves, and thus all we can do is to state how things appear tobe to us in each case, advancing no claim on the real nature of what is in question. The episode of thedog occurs within the context of (iii.b). As often happens in his work, Sextus turns against the Stoics anexample first formulated by the latter for different, if not opposite, purposes.So much for the context within which the episode of the dog is recounted. If we concentratenow on the first edition of Ripa's Iconologia (1593), and check the last entry in the description of theiconography of 'Dubbio', we cannot fail to perceive a close similarity to Sextus Empiricus' contrast: "Anaked and thoughtful man, who having reached a crossroad of two or perhaps three streets, appearsconfused, not knowing which way to go. [...] He is represented as naked in order to make explicit hisirresolution" 14 . The fundamental clue in the iconography of 'Dubbio' is obviously Ripa's furtherspecification that the roads may be three, rather than the usual two. The third road is thoroughlyredundant, and apparently the logic of the description is not immediately explicable. There is a largenumber of representations of the homo viator in bivio, 15 and the literature on decisions to be taken atcrossroads is equally ample, 16 but the image of doubt is usually represented as a dichotomy, or a   4 dilemma, between left or right, one or the other, good or bad, right or wrong. Hercules, for example,has to decide between two roads, 17 while Freedom holds in her hands the letter 'Y', indicating thecapacity of choosing between two options. Likewise, in his Mundus Symbolicus 18 Picinelli symbolises'Doubt' by means of a tree whose direction of fall we do not know (the source is Ovid, qua cadat, indubio est   ), 19 by means of a lover in doubt, or finally as the choice between right and wrong. Thereference is the Virgilian verse discrimine secta bicorni. 20 In English we speak of the horns of a dilemma,and even the etymology of dubium, and of the German equivalent Zweifel, reveals that uncertainty is tobe understood as a Manichean tension between two alternatives. It seems that the image of the triviumas a symbol of doubt was an iconographic novelty. How did Ripa come to conceive of it? Thesuggestion that he was providing a rather elaborate, if correct, interpretation of the episode of the dog inthe Outlines must be immediately discarded. Ripa was not an author interested in scepticism, nor couldhe be credited with a deep or srcinal understanding of Sextus Empiricus' thought. Quite the opposite,he probably did not even perceive that there might be a connection between the two differentbehaviours of a man and of a dog standing at the same trivium. Besides, the suggestion that Sextus mayhave exercised a direct influence on the first edition of the Iconologia would imply that the Pyrrhonistwas already something of a 'best-seller' in 1593, a possibility undermined by all our evidence. So thequestion remains: is there any connection between the two images of a man and a dog standing at thesame trivium?2. "Someone has loosed the dog" 21   The srcinality of the iconography of 'Dubbio' leads one to suspect that whatever Ripa's indirectsource was, what made it possible to associate the idea of 'Dubbio' to the image of trivium in 1593 wasalso what lay behind the episode of Chrysippus' dog recounted in 1613, in connection with'Investigazione'. It can hardly be a mere coincidence that the two beings are standing at a trivium, onehesitating in doubt, while the other discloses all its deductive capacities. One can start searching for anexplanation by recalling that in ancient Greek to be at a trivium (en triodo   ) was used as an idiomaticexpression to mean "to be in doubt". Of course this, of itself, would merely shift our problem severalcenturies backward, if it were not for a nice passage in which Theognis manifests his doubts about twostyles of life: "I stand in a trivium: two are the roads in front of me [...]" 22 . For a Greek of the sixth   5 century 23 to be in doubt was indeed to be torn between two alternatives, but he expressed this situationmore accurately as one of standing in a trivium, because he counted the two roads in front of himself aswell as the one he came from. By the fifth century, "to be at a trivium" had already become a proverbiallocution. Thus, Plato could write in the Laws: "Every young man, - not to speak of old men - on hearingor seeing anything unusual and strange, is likely to avoid jumping to a hasty and impulsive solution of hisdoubts about it, and to stand still; just as a man who has come to a crossroads(_______________________) and is not quite sure of his way, if he be travelling alone, will questionhimself, or if travelling with others, will question them too about the matter in doubt, and refuse toproceed until he has made sure by investigation of the direction of his path" 24 . The closeness of thispassage to the iconography of 'Doubt' shows that Plato was most likely Ripa's literary source. Ripa'suncertainty was due to the fact that the young man is not standing at a trivium but, like Theognis, hasreached it. The idea of movement leads one to presume that the person has come to a place where hethen finds three further roads in front of him, not two and one behind, as Plato's text should probably beinterpreted. 25 Ripa was not quite sure how he should read the Platonic passage. This is why he wrote,rather equivocally, "having reached a crossroad of two or perhaps three streets".The identification of the Greek roots of Ripa's figures solves our opening puzzle about thesimilarity between the iconology of 'Investigazione' and 'Dubbio', and suggests a further clarification.Suppose you were a Greek logician who wished to illustrate the following reasoning: either p1, p2, orp3, but not p1and not p2, therefore p3. Obviously, you would interpret it as an ordinary tree-structure,in this case a trivium. Given the linguistic uses of the time, you would also be led to visualize the image of the doubtful man at a crossroads. As Plato indicates, however, it is difficult to establish how the humansubject can decide among the alternatives. This is precisely why the trivium is a convincingrepresentation of 'doubt'. So you would need someone with a superior capacity. The idea that the dogwas endowed with "incredibilis ad investigandum sagacitas [...and] tanta alacritas in venando" 26 hasbeen always very common in human culture, and the ancient world was not an exception, quite theopposite. 27 According to Olympiodorus, Socrates used the oath "by the dog" because of the rationalityof the animal, 28 and Plato himself described the dog as a philosophical animal. 29 A hunting dog whocould decide in favour of a road by sniffing only the other two is precisely what would serve yourpurpose best. So you put the dog at the crossroads and make it a successful illustration of your
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