Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Pragmatic Theory of Experience: An Introductory Point

Ain't yo momma's empiricism.

I wish to reveal a fundamental principle of a pragmatic theory of experience as originated in William James and as developed in John Dewey.  I perform this as an exercise in clarifying fundamental notions of experience for neophytes to pragmatic phenomenology.

James reversed the standard British/Scottish empiricist view of experience view of the composition of experience.  Experience is not first a plenum, a multitude of impressions, ideas, or even sensible manifolds brought into unity.  Experience is a unity, a "pure experience," in which distinctions are secondary or derived.  Distinctions are acts.

What is the primary unity?  Now I transition to Dewey and give a metaphysical-biological answer.  The fundamental unity of experience is due to the equilibrium of environmental-organismic interaction.  Activity is unity, and the quality of that unity is its equilibrium.  Insomuch as our activities within the natural environment are in equilibrium, are homeostatic, experience is a unity, e.g., "pure experience."

Distinction in conscious experience originates from a relative disequilibrium in bodily activity.  Contra Kant, we understand "spontaneity" to be an event of resistance, ie., a "tensional" or "problematic" situation.  The origin of the phenomenon is not from within consciousness; consciousness is something that happens to a natural event.

What principle am I attempting to impart?  1) Unity is primary over diversity, and there is no traditional problem of synthesis.  2) Unity is understood as a unity of activity, a relatively stable dynamic.  Many might agree with 1 but not 2.

This is one of the fundamental differences between a pragmatic phenomenology, i.e., its metaphysical and epistemological realism that is also immediately compatible with experimental science, and typical continental phenomenology.


  1. JH, you might find a knowledgeable conversation partner for such matters in Robert Corrington, who as Leon tells us has joined the blogosphere:

  2. Thanks, DMF,

    I am writing a book chapter on Corrington and have already subscribed to his blog. While I am not lacking knowledgeable conversation partners, I am lacking partners who are not SAAP-style pragmatists, of which Corrington is one. He's also another example of a "pragmatist" that doesn't fit the taxonomy that I posted upon earlier. Honestly, not fitting that taxonomy is a good sign of being interesting. Corrington, like myself and Leon, bridge into continental.