Experience is the knowledge that is directly given to the consciousness of the subject and is accompanied by a feeling of direct contact with the cognizable reality-be it the reality of objects and situations external to the subject (perception) or the existence of the states of consciousness itself (representations, memories, experiences). Most philosophers shared the experience with sensory knowledge.
The problem of experience was discussed in philosophy primarily in connection with the question of substantiating knowledge. For rationalists, the experience cannot be either full-fledged knowledge or its source, but only at best an occasion for the activity of thinking. But for empiricists, knowledge can only be experienced. At the same time, it is essential for the latter to single out genuine, real, “pure” experience and separate it from what only seems directly to the data, but is not so in fact. For from this point of view only the given content of knowledge can be unquestionable and self-reliant and can, therefore, serve as the basis for the whole system of knowledge. According to this concept, knowledge that seems to be unexplored (a priori) is in fact either a complex product of experience (logic and mathematics in the sense of DS Mill), or not at all knowledge in the exact sense of the word, but only an explication of certain features of the language (logic and mathematics as a system of analytic utterances in the concept of logical positivists) or a meaningless pseudo-knowledge (metaphysics in the understanding of all empiricists). However, all attempts to isolate the immediate content of knowledge in the form of experience (sensations of sensualists, “sensory data” of English and American neo-realists in the early 20th century, “protocol proposals” of logical positivists) did not succeed. There are two philosophical concepts for which the problem of experience is central.
In the philosophical system of Kant, knowledge coincides with experience. Mental education, the subject of which can not be included in the system of experience, in particular, the ideas of God, the transcendental self, of the world as a whole, cannot claim knowledge (although these concepts play an important role in cognition and moral activity). At the same time, Kant’s understanding of experience is entirely different from the empiricist one. Firstly, the experience is possible only as a result of the application of a priori (inexperienced) forms of organization of sensory material. Secondly, Kant emphasizes the relationship and at the same time the irreducibility to each other of two types of experience – external and internal. External experience (relating to physical bodies and related events) involves the organization of sensations a priori forms of space and time and priority categories of reason. In this case, Kant distinguishes perception from experience. For the first, a priori forms of space and time are sufficient. Experience is possible only from the application of the categories as well. Internal experience (relating to events in the inner world of the subject’s consciousness) is realized from the a priori form of time and specific a priori categories of reason. Thirdly, according to Kant, an original “a priori experience” is possible, when the a priori forms of contemplation-space and time-in pure mathematics, for example, appear in the form of “sensual givenness”.
Transcendental phenomenology E. Husserl admits not only sensual but also insensitive contemplation (perception). In addition to the usual experience, Husserl believes, there is also an unusual experience that coincides with transcendental reflection. This is a contemplation of the “pure consciousness” of their own a priori essential structures. Therefore, there can be “categorical perception”, “contemplation of the essence” (things are meaningless, from Kant). A transcendental subject can contemplate himself and thereby know himself. This kind of experience, according to Husserl, lies at the basis of all knowledge and the whole culture. Thinking is meaningful only to the extent that it serves a well-understood experience.
Discussion of the problem of experience in the history of philosophy, as well as in modern literature on the theory of knowledge, the philosophy of science and cognitive science allows us to draw the following conclusions.
- It is impossible to single out a wholly immediate and reliable knowledge, identified with experience – whether this knowledge is understood in the spirit of empiricism as elementary sensory units or the spirit of phenomenology as self-evident phenomena. What seems to consciousness directly to the data is always a product of the action of the subject, involving the use of certain patterns and standards (some of which may be innate), language, categories of culture, and in science also of theoretical language.
- Thinking and experience interact. On the one hand, the results of cogitative activity are somehow used in the experience and this process is tested for suitability (although the methods of determining this suitability can be very complex). On the other hand, the experience itself is criticized, changed and rethought by progress in thinking.
- Different types of experience are distinguished: everyday experience, fixing in everyday language and in the rules of “common sense” the results of everyday everyday practice; systematic (in a descriptive science) systematic observation (a special kind of it is self-observation, i.e. introspection); a scientific experiment that presupposes not just the fixation of a naturally given order of things, but the creation of certain artificial situations that allow one to study phenomena “in pure form.”
- There is no sharp boundary between experienced and unexperienced sciences. Any experience assumes an unexperienced component. At the same time, even in such unexplored sciences as mathematics, there are conjectures, hypotheses, and so on. There are some disciplines, the subject of which is not given in the experience, but which nevertheless are not a priori, but deal with empirically existing texts (history, philology, culturology, philosophy).
- The possibility of separating “inner experience” as an independent one is extremely problematic. If the ordinary (“external”) experience presupposes the influence of an external object on the sensory organs of the subject, it is not clear which sense organs the subject experiencing his “inner experience” can use. And who in this case acts as a subject? Apparently, what is represented by the objects of “inner experience”, in fact, are elements or links of orientation in the external world (cognitive schemes, discursive or semi-recursive formations).