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      Welcome to Cognitive Questions (CQ): Teed Rockwell's graduate internship for the Union Institute Ph.D. program. CQ is basically an interactive classroom with dozens of teachers (you) and one student (me). The coursework for my Ph.D. program consists of writing papers on a variety of topics related to Philosophy and Cognitive Science. As I continue to work on those papers, questions will inevitably come up for me, and when they do I will send them to you via email, and you will each send me whatever responses come to mind (if any). I will then edit your responses and send them back to everyone on the list with my comments and replies, then you will comment on my comments, and so on.

      So much for the preliminaries. Now the first formal post begins:


In Chapter 20 of "Democracy and Education" (pp.306-323) Dewey talks about two different concepts of experience, one dating back to Ancient Greece, and the other to the British Empiricists. The Greek concept of experience was something that was necessarily concerned with the practical, as Dewey put it, "ways of doing and being done to". (p.312) This kind of knowledge was contrasted with the intellectual world of pure reason and knowledge, which supposedly had no commerce with anyone's goals and desires. Experience in this sense was bound to culture and tradition, and was by nature not particulary amenable to progress. It It is this concept of experience which is at the root of the expression "an experienced technician." A person who had experience in this sense of the word has done an activity in the world over an extended period of time, and has consequently acquired a certain kind of skilled knowledge. She thus has a kind of "knowing-how" which may or may not include the ability to generate sentences describing the domain she is experienced in. But even if she can't verbalize what she knows, her knowledge still enables her to move skillfully through the world.

      The British Empiricist view, which Dewey calls sensationalistic empiricism, sees the acquisition of experience as a passive affair; a response to the world as it impinges on the sense organs. According to this view, it is our passivity in relating to experience that gives it its' epistemic worth; it tells us about the world only in so far as we add nothing to it. Dewey calls Sensationalistic Empiricism "a thoroughly false psychology of mental development" (p.316), and indeed this kind of empiricism forms the basis of the theory of education that Dewey is most actively critiqueing. It makes possible the idea that knowledge is a collection of facts (sentences in the head a la Fodor?) which can be shoveled into a passive mind, without requiring the mind or body of the person to interact with them.

      James also critiqued what he called Sensationalism in his "Principles of Psychology" which he defines as the mistaken belief that "Thought is not a continuous current, but a series of distinct ideas". (p.245) James believed that it is this view of consciousness which creates almost all of the problems of epistemology, because it presupposed a need to unify something which was never divided in the first place. In some passages, it appears that James sees consciousness as a homogeneous mush that is destroyed by any atempt at analysis. But in his descriptions of how the self is structured (especially chapter X of the "Principles") it is clear that James, like Dewey, sees our experience as constituted by our activities in the world.

      My question is: Is it really possible to eliminate this sensationalistic kind of experience and still have a viable epistermology? Can Dewey's and James' concept of experience really do everything necessary that was done by the empiricist concept of experience? More specifically, could their concept of experience provide something like A FOUNDATION FOR KNOWLEDGE. I 'm virtually certain that Dewey or James didn't believe that their kind of experience could do *everything* that the empiricists wanted from an epistemic foundation. They believed that most epistemologies overestimated what knowledge can do, and therefore any pragmatist epistemic foundations had to be less solid and reliable than an empiricist or rationalist one. But the pragmatists still believed that certain theories were better than others, and that one evaluated theories by determining how effective they were at making sense out of experience. This leaves us with the question of how a theory, which is traditionally assumed to be a structure made out of "knowing that" sentences, can relate to a set of (neurological?) structures which have evolved into a constellation of "knowing-how" abilities. Most discussions I have seen on these two kinds of knowing have simply stressed their differences. If we are to make "knowing-how" the foundation for "knowing-that", we need a theory that explains how they are related.

      It is now widely believed, thanks to Quine and Sellars, that the concept of immediately given perceptual knowledge is a dogma of empiricism that no longer has any right to be taken seriously. Once we have rejected this dogma, however, we no longer have anything like a foundation to support our conceptual systems, and apparently no way of telling a good theory from a bad one except by determining internal coherence. Rorty claims that Pragmatism was an attack on the very idea of epistemic foundations, but I think that this misinterpretation is the main reason that Rorty is a a skeptical nihilist and Dewey and James were optimists with great admiration for science. Rorty admits that the main difference between the historical Dewey and his hypothetical Dewey is that " My alternative Dewey would have said that we can construe 'thinking' as the use of sentences" ( pp.46-68 in Ross 1994). When sentences have no comprehensible relationship to experience, skepticism will obviously follow. If we wish to have a modern pragmatism that gives a clear picture of science's virtues, restoring the importance of experience looks like a good first step.

      From those of you who are familiar with classical pragmatism, any references to texts that deal with this subject in Dewey, James or Pierce would be a great help. I would also appreciate anything relevant in the modern pragmatists (Quine, Putnam, Rorty etc. ) the Continental Pragmatists (Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty), or anyone else whose ideas might be relevant. For those of you who are not philosophically trained in this area, I would appreciate some gut common sense reactions and/or relevant experiences from your area of specialization. Are you personally willing to give up the idea of sense data as a foundation for knowledge? What would you loose by doing this? If you did give up this idea, would something like the pragmatist concept of experience be an effective substitute? For those of you who are trained in Neuroscience, which concept of experience seems more biologically plausible?

      And that's all I have to say about that, at least for the moment. Any responses would be greatly appreciated. Teed Rockwell


Dewey, J (1916 )*Democracy and Education.* New York, Macmillan

James, W. (1890) *Principles of Psychology* New York Henry Holt

Rorty, Richard 'Dewey between Hegel and Darwin' pp.46-68 in Ross 1994.

Ross, D. (ed.) (1994) *Modernist Impulses in the Human Sciences 1870-1930* (Baltimore)