Professor Seth has been stating what he regards as the most important features of the idealistic theory of knowledge, and he declares that for idealism, the object of knowledge ‘is nothing beyond the cognitive states themselves.’ And he continues: “Now on such a theory it is pretty evident that the distinction of knowing and being, of subject and object, would never have arisen and would not have required, therefore, to be explained away.”
It seems even more evident, however, that if the distinction of subject and object were not a primary character of experience, it could not play the rôle it does in theories of knowledge. And just as the subject-object distinction is more original and primitive than any theory of knowledge, just so the experience of the outer world is more original and primitive than any metaphysic. And by this I mean, not that the outer world exists, but that experience has a certain characteristic feature.
These introductory remarks have sought to separate experience from validity in the ordinary sense. I wish now to consider what we may fairly mean by saying that a thing or a fact is given in experience. The ‘plain man’ says he knows by experience that the outer world has its own independent existence. I ‘know’ by experience all sorts of facts about my fellows, and I know by experience that I have real fellows. At the same time I admit that a true metaphysic might, for all I know, show me that quite the opposite is true. Still, that makes no difference to my experience. We all know, I presume, by experience what happened to us yesterday. These various facts and many more, we say, are given in experience. But they may not be ‘presented’ in experience. A presented object is an object directly and immediately perceived, and of course must be an object ‘given’ in experience, but many objects of the class I call ‘given in experience’ could not possibly be ‘presented.’
Such objects are the thoughts and feelings of my fellow and the past event. Yet speaking unphilosophically, perhaps, but honestly, we say that these are facts of our experience given in experience, known through experience.
I dwell upon the point, obvious though it is, because when we say a fact is given in experience we are so apt to mean presented to perception. To bring something to the test of experience is to produce it for direct inspection. But to define an object of experience in this way, as an object perceived or at least capable of being perceived, is to divorce the concept of experience hopelessly from the life that it is intended to describe. There is no ground for denying that the pious mystic may know God and the Saints