Saturday, February 19, 2011

Experience and its Intelligibility

To see experience has meaning as it is lived is to be under the preoccupation of phenomenlogical methodologies. However, these methods are not for everyone, and even internal to the phenomenological tradition, there is disagreement. However, it is clear that if philosophy passes over this level of lived-description, it is unclear what philosophers are doing for the sake of wisdom. They are rather promoting the gain of knowledge without thinking about the whole of person.

For instance, Putnam once supported a position largely called semantic externalism. This position stated that for any proposition about the world, the meaning of the proposition itself derived its content from our causal interaction with the world. Experience was determined by causal interaction--meaning was a process between mind and world. Meaning was never "in the head" as the early Putnam exclaimed emphatically; it is rather in the world. This put the efforts of philosophers to regard the epistemic moment of knowing meaning, and in order to analyze our experience in the world, these philosophers have focused only on the narrow field of epistemic knowing. There are other dimensions of human life the person lives. Philosophy has sequestered these areas as outside philosophical concern. Yet, my intention in focusing on this very briefly is to put forward an interesting historical thesis: Analytic philosophy in reducing all problems of its inquiry to the epistemic subject has narrowed how it is we really do "experience" the world whereas phenomenology takes seriously how ladened and "condemned" to meaning human life is. In this way, phenomenology usurps the narrow conception, and lets lived-experience predominate our concern to put us back into contact with the world in the right way.

Now what is the lesson that might follow my thesis? First, it is pointless for philosophy to search for the source of experience's intelligibility other than what we may generally say about some domains of human experience. For instance, there are some experiences that start with brute meaning -- as is the case with values -- in our affective life. A room may be distressingly decorated, and prevent me from being calm in order to read. This immediately given datum of the room fills out my interaction with that space in such a way that I must leave the room in order to read. I close my eyes away from looking at the tone of colors and the splattered abstract designs and cannot help but offend my host who notices my looking away from his new renovated house. In such cases, I could give a phenomenological description of my lived-experience and even generalize about method and procedure used to see such experiences. However, in the end, this method of philosophizing talks about common everyday lived experience in a non-mysterious manner.

Next, it should be thought that I think all of analytic philosophy incapable of relating to lived-experience. There is still only one area in which it excels at connecting up with our lived-experience. This has always been the various problems associated in typical normative ethics. In Moore's open question argument, it seems that it is a phenomenological description about how we encounter the good. It is an indefinable property since we can always comport ourselves openly to the possibility as to whether or not we are right this time about what good means. The open possibility of its meaning being otherwise presents us a challenge to provide a one-stop answer to the nature of what good means. In this way, the ordinary language philosophers were proto-phenomenologists offering descriptions of ordinary meanings as we tended to live them. They were not phenomenological in that they did not get passed bracketing much of what needed bracketed, and tended to reify elements in the natural attitude as that which was ordinary.

Now, I don't want to get bogged down in a polemic. That's never been my style, but in pushing for the thesis that we should no longer philosophize about the source of experience's intelligibility but see ourselves as encountering intelligible meanings in and through our life suggests the world is already intelligible. We cannot get away from the fact that experience is always meaningful. We can, however, attempt to describe with rigor what goes unnoticed in our experiencing the world, and this is the wise move of phenomenology.

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