Definition of the Concept of Experience
(See Exposition on Brief, Chapter 4)
WO SPHERES thus stand over against one
another, — our thinking and the objects with which this
is occupied. These latter are designated, in so far as they are
accessible to our observation, as the content of experience. Whether
or not there are other objects of thought outside the field of
our observation, and of what sort these may be, we shall for the
moment leave undetermined. Our first task shall be to fix sharply the
boundaries of the two spheres, experience and thought. We must first
have experience before us in determinate outlines and then
investigate the nature of thought. Here we enter upon the first
(See Notes to the New Edition, 1924, page 14)
experience? Every one is conscious of the fact that his thinking is
kindled through collision with reality. Objects meet us in space and
time; we become aware of an external world of many parts very highly
complicated, and we live in a more or less richly elaborated inner
world. The first form in which all this meets us is already fixed. We
have no share in its coming to pass. It is as if springing forth from
an unknown Beyond that reality first offers itself to the grasp of
our senses and our minds. At first we can do nothing more than to
permit our look to sweep over the multiplicity which meets us.
activity of ours is the grasp of the senses upon reality. We must
grasp firmly what is offered to the senses, for it is only this that
we can call pure experience.
We feel forthwith
the need to penetrate by means of the classifying intellect
into the unending multiplicity of forms, forces, colors, tones, etc.,
which appear to us. We are impelled to explain the mutual
interdependencies of all the single entities that come to meet us.
When an animal appears in a determinate region, we inquire
regarding the influence of the latter upon the life of this animal;
if we see that a stone begins to roll, we seek for other occurrences
with which this is connected. But what comes about in this fashion is
no longer pure experience. It has already a twofold origin
— experience and thinking.
(See Notes to the New Edition, 1924, page 15)
Pure experience is
that form of reality in which it appears to us when we meet it with
the complete exclusion of ourselves.
It is to this form of reality that we
may apply the words Goethe used in his essay
entitledNature: “We are
surrounded and encircled by her. Unbidden and without warning,
she takes us up in the round of her
As regards the
objects of the external senses, this fact stares us in the face, so
that it will scarcely be denied by any one. A body appears at first
before us as a complex of forms, colors, sensations of heat and
light, which are suddenly there as if they had come forth from a
primal source to us quite unknown.
The psychological conviction that the
sense world, as it lies before us, is in itself nothing but a product
of the interaction between our organism and an external world
of molecules unknown to us does not contradict our assertion.
If it were really true that color, heat, etc., were nothing more than
the manner in which our organism is affected by the external world,
yet the process which metamorphoses the occurrences of the external
world into color, heat, etc., lies entirely beyond our consciousness.
Whatever may be the role played in this by our organism, what appears
to our thought as the already existent form of reality, not subject
to our control — that is, experience — is not the
molecular occurrence; it is those colors, tones,
The matter is not
so clear in the case of our inner life. But adequate consideration
will here remove all doubt that our inner states also appear on the
horizon of consciousness in the same form as do the things and facts
of the external world. A feeling makes its impact upon me as does a
sensation of light. The fact that I bring it into nearer relationship
with my own personality has no significance from this point of view.
We must go still further. Even thought itself appears to us at first
as an item of experience. In the very act of examining our thought,
we set it over against ourselves, we conceive its first form as
coming from an unknown source.
This cannot be
otherwise. Our thinking, especially when we lay hold upon its form as
an individual activity within consciousness, is contemplation
— that is, it directs the look outward toward what stands
before it. Here it remains at first as activity. It would look into
emptiness, into nothing, if something did not exist over against
is to become an object of our knowledge must adapt itself to this
form of setting itself before us. We are incapable of lifting
ourselves above this form. If we are to win in thinking a means for
deeper penetration into the world, then thought itself must first
become experience. We must seek for thought itself as one among the
facts of experience.
Only thus will our
world-conception avoid the loss of inner unity. This would occur at
once should we attempt to bring into it an alien element. We stand
facing pure experience and seeking within experience for that element
which sheds light over itself and over the rest of