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experience,

living through events and the impression on a person or animal of events. In epistemology, a distinction is made between things known inductively, from experience, and those known deductively or theoretically, from a priori principles. The ancients, under the influence of Plato and of Euclidean geometry, tended to prize deductive or theoretical knowledge above that gained through experience. Their influence was dominant through the Renaissance. With the rise of modern empirical science the preference was reversed. Immanuel Kant's critical epistemology, however, emphasized the dependence of all experience on the mediation of the intelligence. Modern thought has tended to agree with Kant; accordingly, discussion has centered on what, if anything, can be said to be immediately experience, and how this experience may be conditioned by social factors affecting the social milieu or by perceptual processes themselves.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Experience

 

sensory empirical knowledge of reality based on practical activity; the fusion of knowledge, abilities, and skills.

In the history of philosophy the empiricist and sensationalist views, which assert that experience is the only source of knowledge, have been widely held. Proponents of idealist empiricism, such as Berkeley and Hume, restricted experience to the sum of sensations and perceptions and denied that it was rooted in objective external reality. The materialist empiricists (for example, F. Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Diderot, and Helvetius) proceeded from the assumption that the material world is the source of experience. “We know from the history of philosophy that the interpretation of the concept ‘experience’ divided the classical materialists from the idealists” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 153). In contrast to the empiricists, the rationalists (Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz) argued that logical thought could not be based on experience, which provides unclear, confused knowledge that may lead to error. In their view, reason had the power to arrive at truth directly, bypassing the empirical and sensory level of cognition.

In pre-Marxist philosophy the problem of experience was most deeply analyzed in German classical philosophy. Kant criticized the rationalist proposition of intellectual intuition, as well as the attempts of the sensationalists to derive general concepts from simple aggregates of sensory data. In Kant’s opinion, the human intellect is equipped with a priori (pre-experiential) forms of reasoning, through which sensory impressions are synthesized. Thus, the active role of the knower was emphasized. Hegel studied cognition as a developing, multilevel process. In this view, experience derives from the movement of consciousness, which sets goals for itself. Hegel believed that, insofar as the result attained through action fails to correspond fully to the intended goal, one’s views concerning an object are transformed by the comparison of what was desired with what was achieved, and new knowledge of an object emerges. This process constitutes experience.

Subjective idealist theories, many of which overemphasized the concept of experience in their epistemology, became common in 20th-century bourgeois philosophy. It was argued that the monistic views of materialists and idealists should be replaced by a more perfect, “neutral” monism, which would remove the categories of mind and matter from philosophical parlance, replacing them with the category of “pure experience” (Machism). Lenin’s work Materialism and Empiriocriticism revealed the untenability of such theories, which, in essence, continued the line of thought established by Berkeley and Hume (ibid.).

Among the many subjective idealist interpretations of experience are pragmatism and instrumentalism, which view experience as an “instrumental” aspect of making use of objects. Existentialism, another subjective idealist interpretation, regards experience as the inner world of the subject’s immediate experiences. Neopositivism interprets experience as the different states of consciousness of the subject and dismisses as a false issue the problem of whether objective external reality is the source of experience.

In contrast to idealism and unlike contemplative metaphysical materialism, dialectical materialism believes that experience stems from objective reality. Experience is also thought of as a process in which human beings act upon the external world in order to change it; because of this human activity, in the form of knowledge and skills, experience is also viewed as an interaction between subject and object. The concept of experience essentially coincides with the category of practice, especially experiment and observation, on the basis of which experience takes shape as the result of cognition, including the totality of historically formed knowledge.

The accumulation and transmission of experience from generation to generation are essential features of social development. Experience is objectivized in objects and language, in cultural values. As the practical activity of human beings and the result of that activity, experience reflects the degree to which people at a given stage of historical development have mastered the objective laws of nature, society, and thought. Marxism-Leninism is the scientific generalization and explanation of the experience of revolutionary struggle by the working class and all the toilers for their social emancipation, for the construction of socialism and communism, and for the development of science and culture.

V. G. PANOV

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

experience

Philosophy
a. the content of a perception regarded as independent of whether the apparent object actually exists
b. the faculty by which a person acquires knowledge of contingent facts about the world, as contrasted with reason
c. the totality of a person's perceptions, feelings, and memories
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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