Page:Avenarius and the Standpoint of Pure Experience.djvu/14

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6
AVENARIUS AND PURE EXPERIENCE

he and the 'plain man' have in common. His ideal of a logical or valid experience causes him often enough to be somewhat indifferent to important characteristics of actual experience.

Both the philosopher and the 'plain man' are obliged to take the universe very much in the same way. Whether we are philosophers or not, our adjustment to our world of objects is as though these were genuinely independent of us. This seems a commonplace that scarcely needs even to be alluded to. Yet I trust I may be pardoned for dwelling a little longer on the 'plain man.' He is an instructive individual who seldom comes by his rights in philosophy.

The 'plain man,' if asked for his opinion on the merits of realism, would be at least so sure of its case that he would be unable to comprehend any other point of view. His would be, indeed, a very poor metaphysic, and likely enough quite in error, but this humble realism would express with great energy how the world comes home to the natural unsophisticated man. "You ask me," we may imagine him saying, "how I know that the world out there is independent of me and of everybody else. I know it by experience. Don't my crops grow, whether any one thinks about them or not? Do you suppose I have anything to do with the change of the seasons? I've never seen Spain and South Africa, but I know there are such places, and it wouldn't make any difference if Spain and South Africa didn't contain a living soul, and if everybody else, the Lord Almighty included, should forget there ever had been such places; Spain and South Africa would stay just where they are. You needn't try to tell me it's all in my mind's eye." Something like this the 'plain man' would surely say.

And then we might talk to him of secondary qualities and brain-states and categories. To all of which he would reply with simple and eloquent disgust. Most of his reasons might be as poor as they could be, but the poorness of his reasons would not weaken his sturdy faith precisely because they have little or nothing to do with it. He never inferred or demonstrated to himself the existence of an independent external world. He has always known such a world because he has always lived in it,—it is the world of his experience, that is, his experience is characterized in that way.

One of the first and most important steps to take in an epistemological discussion of experience is to free one's terms, experience, knowledge and the like, from metaphysical implications which solve in advance problems which might be later proposed. This precaution is so important that I will illustrate the neglect of it by a few sentences from an article by Professor Andrew Seth.[1]


  1. Philosophical Review, Vol. I., p. 511, 'The Problem of Epistemology.'