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It is not my intention in the present paper to cover the whole field of epistemology, or even to hint at the existence of many questions of which my subject seems to demand some discussion. The formation of general ideas, the theory of judgment and inference, probability and the validity of knowledge, fall outside the scope of my attempt. And the problem of error will seem to receive very slight treatment. In the present chapter Iwish to take up Bradley’s doctrine of “immediate experience” as the starting point of knowledge. Then the rest of the essay will occupy itself with the development of subject and object out of immediate experience, with the question of independence, and with the precise meaning of the term “objectivity.”

Bradley uses the term “experience” and the term “feeling” almost interchangeably, both in Appearanceand in the essay “On Our Knowledge of Immediate Experience” which is the most important locusfor my present chapter. 2* In the use of these terms we must observe the greatest caution. We must be on guard, in the first place, against identifying experience with consciousness, or against considering experience as the adjective of a subject. We must not confuse immediate experience with sensation, we must not think of it as a sort of panorama passing before a reviewer, and we must avoid thinking of it as the content or substance of a mind. And “feeling”, we must remember, is a term of very wide application, so that in some of its quite legitimate uses it is certainly not identical with “experience.” We must accustom ourselves to “feeling” which is not the feeling of psychologists, though it is in a way continuous with psychological feeling. And when we are told that feeling is “the immediate unity of a finite psychical centre,” we are not to understand that feeling is merely the feeling ofa mind or consciousness.

It means for me, first, the general condition before distinctions and relations have been developed, and where as yet neither any subject nor object exists. And it means, in the second place, anything which is present at any stage of mental life, in so far as that is only present and simply is. In this latter sense we may say that everything actual, no matter what, must be felt; but we do not call it feeling except so far as we take it as failing to be more. ( A&R459)

Keeping these quotations in mind, we turn at once to the words with which the whole theory is summed up in the essay to which I have referred. Experience, we are told,

is not a stage which shows itself at the beginning and then disappears, but it remains at the bottom throughout as fundamental. And, further, remaining, it contains within itself every development which in a sense transcends it. Nor does it merely contain all developments, but in its own way it acts to some extent as their judge. ( ETR161)

In these words we have expressed the whole difference between Bradley’s view of experience and those of certain other contemporary philosophers. For, in the first place, immediate experience is not at any stage of consciousness merely a presentation which can be isolated from other elements also present or subsequent in consciousness. It is not “sense-data” or sensations, it is not a stream of feeling which, as merely felt, is an attribute of the subject side only and must in some way be “related” to an external world. And it is not, lastly, more pure or more immediate in the animal or the infant mind than in the mind of the mathematician engaged upon a problem. Whether there is a stage at which experience is merely immediate, Bradley says, we have agreed to leave doubtful. 3 But here, I feel sure, he has understated his case, and we may assert positively that there is indeed no such stage. This point is worthy of some elucidation.

We are forced, in building up our...

Published By:   Faber & Faber logo    Johns Hopkins University Press

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