On the ambiguity of the value of experience

From Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, 1.7

“All experience (empirical cognition), the inner not less than the outer, is nothing but the cognition of objects as they appear to us, not as they are (when considered by themselves). Not only the quality of the idea, but also the quality of the subject and its susceptibility is important in determining the kind of sensual perception on which the thought process concerning the object (the concept of the object) bases itself.”

And, “Therefore, through inner experience I always know myself only as I appear to myself.”

For Kant, experience is a product. It is a product of the combination of the sensual perception (passive) and thought (active). All the sensual perceptions of a particular object must be organized to produce what we call the product–experience. Formally, there is no problem. Materially, the way things appear is shaped, as Kant says above, by “the quality of the subject and its susceptibility”.

And, experience, is normally thought to be a good. But it is either treated naively as if it were devoid of normative content (in which case it can hardly really be a good), assumed that the normative content is somehow automatic or easy (the use of a method…”scientific”), or there is much in the build up of my judgments and experience of objects that is a mess since informed by what I bring to it which we could call the value of my organization of sensual perception.

In the reign of the industrial revolution and the church of science headed by priests who provide empirical studies all is supposed to go and be well. But what is reported as experience involves not merely the presentation of “facts”. It involves appearances and appearances alone are shaped by character, and our judgments about those appearances are shaped by character even as our character shapes those judgments.

The “scientific” journals are increasingly the build-up of tribute to the gods favored by the community. Something like a competition is on. The god whose worshipers provide the most “empirical studies” is going to reign supreme.

The “empirical study” is cited for coercive and tyrannical dominance to no end. And at this point it is not hard to find an “empirical study” couched in the right language, framed in quantitative precision, employing jargon from the church’s guide book (scientific methodology), footnotes, etc. for anything one wants to prove.

What is behind it all? The quality of the subjects experiencing, the susceptibility of the subjects as Kant so eloquently and succinctly puts it. The recently simple way of getting at the concern was that “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

To cite the myriad forms that the religion of the empirical study takes would take too long. But to follow the analogy is not hard. If you do not get in line you will be deemed a heretic. Bow to the empirical study! Or face ostracism. Maybe burnt at the stake. There was a time when the priests of the god of the heavens provided such authority. Now the gods of the empirical study are commanding such authority.

What the claim to follow science or the latest empirical study amounts to is to follow the combination of material gathered and the susceptibility of the gatherer of material. The supposedly safe step of submitting to the empirical amounts to submitting to the empirical filtered through these individuals’ susceptibility. This will include those individuals’ character, values, desires, aversions, passions, and yes even their experience.

An example: I sent an image of recently planted sweet potatoes to friends. They all got the same image. Most responses were a simple “nice!”. And this response was justified by the lack of anything else to say to the guy who is desperate to show off his sweet potatoes. One response was different–“Those vines are so robust!” One individual saw something like mere green plants. Another, looking at the same image saw robust vines. And indeed they were. But how noticeable? The one who responded with the insight was the one with experience…and so we are back where we started.

I do not intend to pooh-pooh experience. It is, in a sense, everything. But it is NOT merely the meta-survey sample conducted by the correct method and some easily achieved clarity of sight. Were we to spend long enough on this we would weep for the community that places its bet in its quest for knowledge and wisdom on mere method. The value of experience is in the subject and his susceptibility. And this is a moral consideration.

The sages have always seen this. Buddha’s “Middle Way” begins with “right view”. And everything is in “right view” Get there. What is the journey like to get to right view?

Jesus’ “beatitudes” culminate in the “pure in heart” seeing God. Note the correspondence between moral achievement and epistemological achievement. He who becomes pure sees best.

In some contemporary circles susceptibility would be mistaken for a kind of openness to the new. Let’s be done with that deeply problematic interpretation. No one should be open to the new offerings of the current legal drug-pushers called “psychiatrists”. No one should be open to the new dreams of utopian collectivists. No one should be open to the new delivery of some new sexual experience, say bestiality. Several generations have been misled to think that a kind of susceptibility that amounts to a valueless tolerance and willingness to submit to anything anyone brings to the table as a form of real susceptibility. We have swung the pendulum from our certainty that judgment, strong association, and certainty about values is wrong, to a certainty that neutrality, tolerance and openness to anything is right. Same certainty, different content.

In fact we have gotten even weirder. We have decided to measure the demand for tolerance and openness by power. Those in the most power (C), demand that those with less but substantial power (B) must be open and tolerant while those with much but less on-average power than (B), (A), are invited to become closed, judgmental, intolerant and rabidly committed to group identity. Such confusions are fostered in entertainment, news and in our classrooms. “You” be open! “You” be closed! “You” open up, now! “You”, protect yourself and be wary of these others!

“We” (the ones giving orders) have it alllllllllllllllll figured out. We understand why power is distributed the way it is, and what is wrong with it, and how to fix it. Get in line! Submit! And don’t notice the elephant in the room. We have a straw sucking from the one thing we want–your energy and attention which ultimately is convertible into your labor and productivity which is ultimately convertible into your dollars. Thanks for not noticing. Here is your prescription. Here is something new to be enraged about. Here is something new to titillate your desire for feel good comfort. Relax. Feel good. “We” have it all under control.

The recommendation by the Puritanical Libertarian is that you be on your guard against mass drugging, mass offers of ease and comfort, mass offers of passive acceptance. The Puritanical Libertarian recommends that you build virtue, then relationship with other virtuous individuals, then you transfer the labor that you learned to endure in the production of virtue to the production of that which would satisfy want in trade with others. Let the network of virtuous and free individuals grow and frusrate those who would seek control and dominance through offers of ease and feel good. Get to work!

Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

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