Saturday, April 16, 2011

Life Experience Affects Criterion Affects Belief

In a reading group I attend a discussion broke out over whether there is a pre- or sub- linguistic connection to the world where we contact pure experience, a “felt sense” outside of language, or whether language infuses everything so that we cannot say when we are contacting something sub- or supra- or extra- linguistic such as “the way the world is,” reality, raw or felt experience, and when we’re not. So I was defending the Rortyan view that we can’t know when we’re in touch with that which is beyond language because language can always be argued to be already there. Whereas the other guy was saying that no, in his experience, he can mindfully or self-consciously feel into or gain awareness of what’s there which of course includes language but can go beyond it.

I said you can’t know which view – language infuses all access or we have access to experience - to choose because there are compelling arguments on both sides. He appealed to his phenomenological experience: he looks into his experience and experiences things like sensations, urges, emotions, etc. I was thinking that the criterion you choose to decide the question will be a determining factor in whether you see it one way or the other. I have chosen rational argumentation as the ultimate determiner. I know this issue, and lots of other philosophical issues, have not been decided and probably never will. So I lean towards the pervasiveness of language since language, in the form of rational inquiry, seems to generate more debate, as the alleged eternal problems of philosophy indicate. He uses experience as his primary criterion and finds by using that criterion and method that experience is experienced as having both linguistic and extralinguistic contact.

So which criterion to choose? I realized that my choice of primary criterion was influenced by my life experience. I was in graduate school studying for a Ph.D. and doing abstract intellectual work. I discovered Buddhist practice which can be radically experiential and left school and did that. I later became frustrated with and doubtful of it and stopped doing it formally and went back to intellectual work. Experience, in a sense, betrayed me and I adopted argumentation as the way to go. Now there are those who use argumentation and have the view that you can contact reality. So it can’t only be that choice that makes me defend the undecidability of the issue. But this life experience moved me to adopt one view over another and be a person who argues this way rather than that.