A Philosophy of Considered Experience?

Can a philosophy be grounded on the considered experience of its author?  –So grounded, we could understand it as open to analysis and to disagreement, but not as straightforwardly vulnerable to argument based on general principle.  I ask because it strikes me that many of the philosophies I care most about can be understood as grounded in this way, as grounded in their author’s considered experience.  Montaigne’s, of course; but Cavell’s too, of course.  Many philosophers who turn in the direction of ’empiricism’, ‘experience’–can I think be best understood as appealing to his or her own considered experience.  They are not best understood as appealing to experience (full stop), are not worried about (or much worried about) theorizing the rational or a-rational bearing of experience (full stop) on belief or knowledge.  They are neither rationalists nor empiricists, although stretches of their philosophical terms, constructive or critical, sound empiricistic.

A give-away for the sort of philosophy with which I am concerned is a moment at which the philosopher talks of experience as something to which we can be loyal, something to which we can rally, something that can obligate us, something that can be educated.  Another give-away is talk about experience as accumulating, as having weight.

6 responses

  1. i wonder where nietzsche’s fondness for ‘truthfulness’ fits in here.

    i’m not asking, just wondering. (and thinking of cavell’s citations of the ‘truthfulness’ of confessions, the latter term–‘confession’–seeming to be a bit closer to ‘experience’ in the sense you are referring to than i usually associate with nietzsche.)

  2. Yes ! It makes sense of Cavell’s otherwise obscure remark that “Philosophy and autobiography need to be told in terms of each other.” Bravo !

  3. It seems to me that if such philosophy is to avoid dogmatism and the exploitation of what Foucault called ‘the desire to be led’ (the philosopher as a guru to whose judgment her readers will uncritically defer), it must work very hard to elicit the same experience in its readers. I’m not sure there is a clear line between doing this work and giving arguments based on general principle, but there seems to me to be clear cases in which eliciting an experience doesn’t require an appeal to general principles. I recall here a nice point you once made about phenomenology: the best phenomenology often consists in articulating an observation in just the right way, so that someone who reads it can recognize for herself, in the articulation used, the experience being described. Sometimes an image, a metaphor, or the perfect neologism will do the trick. Of course, this kind of work carries a heavy responsibility: to avoid the dangers of rhetoric in the pejorative sense – rhetoric that doesn’t earn the persuasion it effects. But there is the same danger in making arguments based on general principle: sometimes the most dangerous rhetoric is precisely that which masquerades as rigorous argument…

    • I agree. In particular, I agree in not being sure that there is a clear line here. Discipleship, with all its abuses, certainly is a danger internal to this kind of work.

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