Page:Avenarius and the Standpoint of Pure Experience.djvu/42

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THE DESCRIPTION OF EXPERIENCE

I

Pure experience means mere experience, experience just as it comes, consisting of things, thoughts and relations, and these consisting of it. It is not conceived subjectively nor does it presume any particular metaphysic of an objective reality. It is the simple presence or absence of whatever is empirically present or not present. And as we are in this discussion concerned with cognitive experience, by pure experience we shall mean experience characterized as the immediate cognition of facts, which facts may be things or relations, thoughts, feelings, convictions or uncertainty.

Avenarius gives a long list of examples of experience, and although some account was given above of his way of describing experience, a few illustrations from his own pages may serve to introduce a consideration of his general undertaking: "It is an experience that the sun shone yesterday, that it was obscured on the day before, that a recent year was perhaps an unusually rainy one, or perhaps unusually dry. . . . Among people of primitive culture an individual will declare it his experience that the moon, in case of an eclipse, is holding her child in her arms, that one visits distant places in sleep, that a shadowy being with a character something like a breath (hauchartig) is the source of feeling and movement in the body; and that a body can exist with a soul or without it, and that a soul can exist both embodied and disembodied. Stages of culture not so far from our own have the experience that shrieking drives away the monster that darkens the sun, and that incantations drive out the evil spirit which has entered into a body. In our own civilization, the demented patient experiences the command of God to throw himself out of the window,—he will fly like a bird [if he does so]."[1]

A list like this could be prolonged indefinitely, but its significance is apparent from a few examples. Every such case of experience is a case of insight. The person who has the insight is not aware that he contributes anything toward the construction of what he perceives. He is sure that he is not mutilating any facts. He reports the truth as he perceives it. The command of God, a bit of geometry, excursions of the soul, facts of chemistry or mechanics are all facts which are directly observed and reported. From our


  1. Kr. der R. Erf.,' II., p. 342.

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