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Experience and its Modes (Cambridge Paperback Library)
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After a short introduction, Oakeshott devotes his second chapter to the title topic: "Experience and its Modes." Here he carefully and solidly expounds the Idealist contention that experience is coextensive with judgment/thought; that the principle of coherence gives the meaning of "truth" and that the principle of "correspondence" fails for want of an answer to the question, "Correspondence to _what_?"; that the aim of philosophy is experience without presupposition or "arrest."
That's the setup. Now, in his next three chapters, Oakeshott considers the "worlds" of history, science, and practical life, showing in detail that each is _almost_ a complete world unto itself that must be criticized, if at all, on its own terms -- and yet that taking any of these as a _fully_ complete world would be what he has called an "arrest" in experience, in effect the mistaking of incompleteness for completeness.
The first side of this double-edged blade is crucial for one of Oakeshott's aims. He is at great pains to avoid, and to argue against, "irrelevance" or "ignoratio elenchi," and in order to do so he must show that criticism of a "world" can be offered only on that "world's" own terms. There is no shortcut; in order to "refute" a system of life or thought, it is necessary to enter into it and show, in Oakeshott's words, both the half-truth in the error and the error in the half-truth. None of the "worlds" he examines, in his view, is wholly false; each represents an important partial truth.Read more ›
Furthermore, in today's world, the main thesis of this book is both relevant and, arguably, a better way of drawing some sense from the political arguments which "rage" around us.
Finally, it is elegantly written (though, like all good books, you'll need to concentrate!).
In particular, Oakeshott seems to be highlighting two sets of differences.
First, that between "experience" and a "mode" of experience - developed in sections 1, 2 and 6 of the text, which seem to be the most important. "Experience" is a `world of ideas', and that `the world of experience is the real world' (p. 69): it is self-existent. In contrast, a "mode" of experience is an `arrest in experience' (p. 71): it is a homogeneous world of abstract ideas that contributes to the `totality of experience' (p. 78). Simply put, a "mode" of experience (as experience) falls short of "experience" (as a totality) - a differential relation that seems to characterize Being, as ground, in its ontological difference from being, as grounded, discussed by Heidegger.
And this brings in the second a difference, which seems to be a feature characterizing each mode of experience, be it, "historical", "scientific" or "practical" - developed in (the less exciting) sections 3, 4 and 5 of the text respectively. It is a difference that arises from the way a mode of experience appears to us: on the one hand, `in virtue of its character as a world of ideas, comes before us as that which is satisfactory in experience, a coherent world of ideas' (p. 328). On the other hand, `in virtue of its modality, it must fall short of a fully coherent world of ideas' (ibid.).Read more ›
This work, published in 1933, is to my knowledge the last serious attempt to vindicate British Idealism as a comprehensive philosophy. By the time the book was published idealism had already lost much ground to analytic philosophy. It has not been revitalized since then.
When reading chapter IV on scientific experience, it is easy to see why this line of thought was abandoned. The author maintains that scientific experience conceives the world under the category of quantity and that its only criterion of truth is the coherence of scientific experience. This is in line with the general thesis of idealism that knowledge is nothing but a world of ideas and that any notion of a thought-independent reality is meaningless. But this description of scientific experience does not shed any light on how one scientific explanation can be better than another or on the things scientists assume without conscious reflection. It also doesn't facilitate any useful distinction between science and pseudo-science. So if you want to think critically about natural science, this is simply not a productive perspective. That's why it was bypassed a century ago by more interesting developments in the philosophy of science.
Nevertheless I do recommend this book for those interested in the philosophy of history, because an idealist account is of much greater value in the description of historical experience. This is not surprising since the historical world actually exists only in our ideas of the past. The naive conception of history which the author criticizes is still prevalent today and the philosophy of history developed in this book seems quite fresh.Read more ›