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The experience (Modern Thoughts)


The seventeenth Century had seen the real task of philosophy differently. For Descartes the task was in the construction of the philosophical “system”. Truly philosophical knowledge seemed to be attainable only when thought, starting from a highest certainty intuitively grasped, succeeded in spreading the light of this certainty over all derived being and all derived knowledge. The original certainty was found in a proposition “cogito ergo sum“. Based on such certainty the system was built by the method of proof and rigorous inference, which added other proposition to the first original certainty, and in this way linked together the whole chain of possible knowledge.

But it turned out that in such rationalistic approach being was a mere concept rather than an experience. The process of clarifying it and of developing its implications was left to rational logic and argumentation. And then there was no point in arguing over the nature of empirical structures because they were too vague and confused.

With the coming of British empiricism, the whole situation seemed quite different, and the need for an empirical philosophy was clearly expressed. However, the view of the nature of sense experience here was oversimplified and reductive. No wonder that it has led to Hume who eventually reduced it to a mere succession of atomic impressions, which was lacking all relational structure.

This prepared the way for Kant, whose dismissal of sense experience (“the manifold sense”) brought forth another non-empirical form of idealistic rationalism : the synthetic forms of intuition and the categories.

If we now use the modern –and somewhat simplistic- categories of Subject and Object, the tension between subjectivistic and objectivistic orientations in relating human reason to the flux of experience along the history of philosophy is obvious. The Greek philosophy is an interesting struggle between subjectivity in the sense of platonic personal-dialectic reflexivity and objectivity in that of Aristotelian conflation of the natural constitution and its intelligibility to human reason. The trace of such tension was still strongly manifest in the medieval philosophy. With Descartes, however, modern philosophy started with a new foundation which was highly subjectivistic, that is, the certainty of one’s existence. This was compensated later on by the objectivistic paradigm of British empiricism. And while Kant sought to make a synthesis of both lines, it was actually Hegel who, in spite of his shortcomings, deployed a more radical approach toward experience.

For Hegel mind is concerned not with reflective formalism but with the experience of the development of its own consciousness throughout history. The life of the mind consists precisely in recognizing itself in other being, hence the subjective in the objective. The mind directed toward self-knowledge regards itself as alienated from the “positive” and must learn to reconcile itself with it, seeing it as its own, as its home. In that this kind of reconciliation is the historical work of the mind, the historical activity of the mind is neither self-reflection nor the merely formal dialectical supersession of the self-alienation, but an experience that experiences reality, and is itself real.

While classical rationalism, British empiricism, and idealism, all discount the world of sense experience, phenomenology and existential philosophy are opposed to all three. They maintain that sense experience cannot be adequately accounted for as a mere confusion, a mere manifold, or the matter for dialectical synthesis, but must be recognized as an ordered world of perception and feeling. What is required is a closer appreciation of the concrete pattern of lived existence. Indeed, in so doing they have been repeatedly charged with subjectivism or even irrationalism. But the fact is that for an existentialist philosopher such as Kierkegaard, for instance, contrary to Hegel and idealistic philosophy in general, being is not contained within a conscious substance or spirit, nor does it result from a dialectical process of pure consciousness which externalizes itself. Instead, being or existence comes first. Thus Descartes’ subjectivistic movement which passes from “I think” to “I am”, for the existentialist is wrong. I do not first think and from this deduce that I exist. I exist first of all, and on this ultimate ground I doubt and think. The primary aim of the existentialist philosophy is to gain understanding of the basic pattern and structures of our primordial experience in this life world.

Apart from Kierkegaard, Husserl’s phenomenology was the basic inspiration for the existential philosophy, as well as for the subsequent development of various philosophical school of the twentieth century.

Husserl’s initial purpose was actually to put philosophy back into a form of rigorous science in the Platonic-metaphysical sense. Ironically, however, it turned out that his phenomenology eventually resulted in most devastating critique of Metaphysics. Two concepts of his philosophy particularly play significant role in overcoming the metaphysics of subject-object , along with its tendency toward foundationalism and representationalism, -the salient characteristics of modernism- namely the concept of ‘life-world” or Lebenswelt and “intentionality”. In the beginning Husserl actually wanted to discover an absolute foundation ( Fundamentum inconcussum) by probing into the realm of transcendental subjectivity.

But this finally led him to the life-world, Lebenswelt, that is, the immediate flow of unreflective life, the world which precedes the modern distinction between subjective and objective, hence all scientific constructs. Thereby the “objective” world of science turns out to be mere interpretation , and not representation, of the real immediate life-world. Later on Heidegger caught the concept of life-world and brought it to further consequences. For him life-world is nothing other than existence, being which exists in history and in the world, that is, in society, tradition and culture.

Another important concept from Husserl was “Intentionality” , a concept which says that our ideas are essentially “of” or “about” something : an inherent interdependent relationship between consciousness and reality. Heidegger also later took up this concept. He shows that our forming representation of reality is made possible by the fact that we are already engaged in it , dealing with it, and at grips with it. This would mean that our representations of things are always grounded in the way we deal with these things. But this “foundation” is basically inarticulate and inexhaustible. Since any articulative project would itself rely on a horizon of nonexplicit engagement with the world.

From this follows that the task of reason is not to find the deepest and unshakable foundation, but rather, to disclose what the basic dealing involves. This would make the notion of the self as a disengaged agent no longer possible. Heidegger then shows how the self ( Dasein) is defined in terms of a life shared with others, as being-together, hence socio-cultural life, with its particular articulation of Being in language.

But it was Merleau-Ponty, in my opinion, who paved a more definite way for philosophy to deal with direct experience. Taking his point of departure in Husserl’s phenomenology of the life-world, he shows that perception is our primordial contact with the world. Perception is the only mode in which the meaning of Being is originally constituted. And for the most part perception is pre-conscious and pre-personal. It is materialized by a bodily ego which is also pre-conscious. Since it concerns the pre-conscious level of existence, phenomenology is a matter of description rather than analysis (Husserl) or interpretation (Heidegger) . The world is the natural field for all my thoughts and all my explicit perceptions.

Philosophers throughout history have tried to solve all problems by pointing either to eternal truths or to apodictic evidence. For Merleau-Ponty, however, we are always already in the realm of truth. And it is the experience of truth, that is, the experience of the world, which is self-evident. The fundamental unity between myself and the world more clearly in our desires, emotion, evaluation and behaviour, than in our objective knowledge.

Thus, Merleau-Ponty shifts the centre of gravity from subjectivity to the world, from pure consciousness to experience. But the world is experienced as inseparable from subjectivity as it is from intersubjectivity. This is the reason why all my experiences in regard to the world find their unity only when I take up my past experiences in those of the present, and other people’s in my own.

All this Husserlian-Heideggerian based tradition which hitherto bears the name of “hermeneutics” (Philosophical hermeneutics), together with phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, has led to the primacy of experience in today’s philosophy, which finds its culmination in H.G.Gadamer. Taken as a point of departure, it will shed new light on understanding the phenomena of culture, history, tradition and self-identity. Some important corollaries to the primacy of experience are as follows :

  • Experience or “reality” involves a complex, elusive, and inexhaustible character, in which subjectivity as well as objectivity dissolve.

  • "Relationality” as the keyword in the place of “substance” or “essence”
  • .
  • Seeing any claim of reality as only an interpretation of it instead of its one to one representation.

  • Conceiving reality as historical and ongoing process, instead of a-historical total system.

  • Analyzing reality in terms of linguistic modes of articulation (text, discourse, semantics, syntax, etc)

  • Truth is no more a matter of justified proposition, warranted assertibility or objective static correlation between the inner and the outer, but rather, a matter of action. Truth is the disclosure of greater and more complex possibilities for being and acting.

  • Published: 2007-03-02
    Author: agustinus hartono

    About the author or the publisher
    Male, not married, fresh graduated in philosophy.I'm very interested in writing articles or books about philosophy or politic. On march of 2007, I publish my first book tittled "Skizoanalisis:Sebuah Genealogi Hasrat".In this book,i claim that the history based on ratio had produced an unconsciousness abnormality.Therefore,I invite you to live your life based on your desire to live the real life.nowadays,all of us can say that it's a new era of


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