John Dewey:Everything depends upon the quality of experience which is had.

Dewey, a 20th century American philosopher tells us: Experience is had before it is known. What he is saying   with this brief, meaning packed statement is that knowledge is a derivative state based ultimately on our primary experience. This ongoing experience is our primary state of being: we experience what is happening to us from moment to moment. From that ongoing, ever flowing continuous experience, we derive and formulate the knowledge we accumulate about ourselves, about others and about the rest of the world around us. We live through our experiences in this ongoing fashion; we derive our knowledge from that primary experience. That is why it makes so much sense to not let our knowledge claims trump our experiential claims. That is why contemporary science has been so extraordinarily successful. Their “knowledge model” is based on experiments. Experiments are used to test theories and hypotheses, and if the results of the experiments do not fit the theory, then the theory needs to be reworked, not the results. So too with our living in the world. Experience trumps our ideas, our beliefs, our expectations, and our knowledge claims every time. If our knowledge is at odds with our experience, we need to rethink our knowledge. Unfortunately, knowledge can be held dogmatically. We absolutely think we are right. When our knowledge is held in this fashion, the possibiity of changing our minds in the face of new countervailing experience is diminished, and often is simply held as not possible. The ever changing character of our experience suggests that holding lightly to our beliefs is the better part of wisdom. Our certainties often are shrouds covering our deepest illusions. What are your certainties?


About The Practical Philosopher

I am a retired Philosophy professor. I taught philosophy for 43 years, and I would like to share some of what I have found pursuing the fascinating journey of philosophy.
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One Response to Quality

  1. warren says:

    Too true. Too true. The question is why we cling so desperately to our beliefs in the face of contradictory experiences? I think it has to do with the knowledge constructions filtering experiences and the overall value of assimilation and accommodation in interacting with the world. (Science, by the way, has the same “problem,” right? Theories often undergo considerable alteration as new data comes in, tweaked by researchers in ways small and large in futile attempts to keep them vital… until the evolving theory finally collapses under the weight of all the prunts and hedges. That’s the history of science – at least as Thomas Kuhn re-conceived it back in the late 1950s (1960?), if I remember correctly, when he first came up with the notion of schemas.)

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