On Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 9:35 AM, david buchanan <dmbuchanan@hotm...> wrote:
> William James’ pure experience, the central idea in his radical empiricism,has been subject to misunderstanding and misinterpretation for 100 years.
I came across this in the SEP...
[http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/james/]... it seems to contradict
your statement that pure experience is central to radical empiricism
(although I tend to agree with you and not the article). Could you
expand on your thinking in that regard and how it differs from the
"James's “radical empiricism” is distinct from his “pure experience”
metaphysics. It is never precisely defined in the Essays, and is best
explicated by a passage from The Meaning of Truth where James states
that radical empiricism consists of a postulate, a statement of fact,
and a conclusion. The postulate is that “the only things that shall be
debatable among philosophers shall be things definable in terms drawn
from experience,” the fact is that relations are just as directly
experienced as the things they relate, and the conclusion is that “the
parts of experience hold together from next to next by relations that
are themselves parts of experience” (MT, 6–7)."
I am unsure that this author has a handle on what James meant by "pure
experience" mainly because of the "metaphysics" term. Robert Pirsig
clearly puts Dynamic Quality outside of any encyclopedia we use to
construct a metaphysical reality and if he and James are using the
terms in a synonymous way then pure experience would also lie outside
of any metaphysical sense of reality.
>As I take Pirsig’s pre-intellectual experience (a.k.a. Quality or Dynamic Quality) to be more or less equivalent to James’s pure experience, objections that cut against James will make Pirsig bleed and vice versa.
> The most common objection is to simply to deny that there is any such thing as pure experience. “All awareness is a linguistic affair” or “it’s text all the way down”. Even our basic sensory perceptions are structured by concepts or categories of thought we inherit from language. There is no way to peel back the human contribution, they say. These slogans represent perfectly good objections against positivism, against traditional sense-data empiricism and against the kind of phenomenology that sought the pure essence of things. These objections rightly push back against any claim that says we can gain direct, untainted access to objective reality or somehow peel back our own subjectivity to get at the things-in-themselves. When educated critics hear phrases like “pure experience” and “pre-intellectual experience” or sometimes even just the word “empiricism”, lessons from thinkers like Sellars (or Quine) spring to mind and immediately there are flags down all over the field.
These are all static quality objections... any time we make a
statement concerning Dynamic Quality (or pure experience) someone else
can come along and statically contradict it. I always thought that's
why RMP used the hot stove example to illuminate what pre-intellectual
experience might consist of, but of course that too can be statically
defeated by calling our jumping from the stove basic instinct. I
thought of that when I was listening to the ZMM podcast on the
Partially Examined Life website and someone asked if an amoeba has
pre-intellectual awareness because it moves away from a drop of acid.
I would say an amoeba has biological awareness... it cannot formulate
complex meanings... it only reacts to its environment. The hot stove
example shows how experiences like pain and oaths come after the
Dynamic moment of just knowing some"thing" isn't right. So far as I
know, an amoeba doesn't intellectually formulate a notion of pain nor
does it mutter oaths in reaction to the acid. So if the intellect
isn't there, how can there be a pre-intellectual awareness?
> The problem with using this objection against Pirsig or James is that they are not making any such claims to a pure, untainted view. In fact, they debunk the same myth and they undermine the same ambition with pithy little slogans of their own. “We carve out everything,” James says, and “the human serpent is coiled over everything”. Similarly, Pirsig says, “we are suspended in language,” and, slightly modifying Protagoras, “Man is the measure of all things, he is a participant in the creation of all things”. As if to drive this point all the way home, Pirsig says that we even constructed the idea that reality is not a construction.
Right... he says that ideas come before matter, although the idea that
matter comes before ideas is a good idea!
> Like the linguistic slogans, these slogans from James and Pirsig also represent a move against the myth of the given, against traditional empiricism and against the correspondence theory of truth. They too represent a rejection of the Modern quest for a single objective (usually scientific) truth and the express the postmodern realization that reality is fundamentally interpretive, that we don’t exist in a world of things but a socially constructed world of meaning.
> Sellars’ slogan is actually about our awareness of sorts, resemblances, facts, abstract entities and particulars. In other words, making distinctions and otherwise sorting things into conceptual categories is necessarily a linguistic affair. To claim that verbal or conceptual awareness is the only kind of awareness, one would have to claim that animals and human infants can have no awareness at all and it would mean that reflective self-consciousness is a very lonely gift that sprang, fully developed, from nowhere. Right now there are trillions of living creatures that have various degrees of awareness and are getting along just fine without the benefit of words or concepts.
> Pure experience is the centerpiece of a larger, radical empiricism, one that rejects the assumptions that created the epistemic gap between experience and reality in the first place. This gap is predicated on “an artificial conception of the relations between knower and known,” James says, and this fake problem is his first target. The history of philosophy has shown that all sort of theories have been invented to overcome this gap, he says. Some theories put a mental representation into the gap, common-sense theories left the gap untouched, believing that our minds could just make the leap and, he tells us, and the Transcendentalists brought their Absolute in to perform this epic task. James and Pirsig, on the other hand, say that subjects and objects are not the conditions that make experience possible. Instead, they have been carved out. As James puts it, inner and outer are just names for the way we sort experience. They are linguistic affairs, products of reflection, concepts derived from experience. To supposed that these terms mirror Nature’s own divisions or otherwise correspond to pre-existing ontological categories is to reify these concepts. Under our radical empiricists, subjects and objects are stripped of their metaphysical, ontological status and otherwise demoted to the rank of mere concept – thereby eliminating Cartesian dualism and replacing it with an experiential monism. For the radical empiricist, experience and reality amount to the same thing. This is the context in which James and Pirsig make their claims about pure experience or the pre-intellectual cutting edge of experience.
> There is an interesting little Wikipedia article on “Sciousness”. It briefly outlines the development of pure experience in James thinking from his work as a psychologist through his final philosophical stages as a radical empiricist. Even there, we see that the question is far from settled: “Pure experience sciousness was mostly attacked when first presented. With some notable exceptions, such as Bergson, Dewey, and Whitehead, Western philosophers rejected James’ view. That rejection continues to this day.”
I thought this quote from the article was interesting as well:
"Most pertinent ... is William James with his notion of sciousness
which comes in contrast to consciousness. The former consists of pure
experience only, the latter involves knowledge of experience. The
crucial question is whether mere sciousness does in fact exist. In a
most insightful scholarly discussion, Bricklin (Journal of
Transpersonal Psychology , 2003) argues that basically the Jamesian
position is positive in this regard. Natsoulas (Philosophical
Psychology, 1993; Journal of Mind and Behavior , 1996) argues that
James vacillated on this issue. I would say that the topic calls for
much further examination."
This is where RMP seems to expand on James by saying that Dynamic
Quality is both undefined and infinitely definable. Rather than
isolating pure experience from the knowledge of experience, he is
marrying them... pure experience comes before the moment of
intellectualization... it is the cutting edge of reality, always new,
always a surprise. The knowledge of that pure experience grows from
that moment in a continuous stream of consciousness.