The Depths and Shallows of Experience

Hilary Putnam

in Science, Religion, and the Human Experience

Published in print May 2005 | ISBN: 9780195175325
Published online February 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780199784707 | DOI:
 							The Depths and Shallows of Experience

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This essay focuses on the dimension of human experience; Putnam seeks to dispense the shallow notion of experience (including, but not limited to, religious experience) as something utterly reduced to sensations. He does so by carefully comparing the shallow Humean conception of experience, based on impressions or “pictures” formed on the senses, and the Kantian conception which combines perception and conceptual ideas in a continuous self which fuses these experiences over time. Putnam then extends this Kantian notion of experience to discuss Kant’s aesthetic argument concerning “indeterminate concepts,” those that both involve and extend the creative imagination. Putnam applies Kant’s treatment of indeterminacy to morality as a means of suggesting its relevance to religious experience, and also extends this notion to science, arguing that the technological and aesthetic process of scientific knowledge production is far more complex than a sense-data view would suggest. Putnam then returns to religious experience, specifically the problem of skepticism which may seem to result from a rejection of immediate sense-impression and embrace of indeterminacy. He discusses several responses, ultimately siding with the existentialist approach which stresses responsibility to live (and hence make choices) in spite of what cannot be fully proven following “reasonable” means. He concludes by noting the symmetry between atheists and fundamentalist fanatics, since for both, religious belief or nonbelief is obvious. This obviousness in his mind betrays a simplistic notion of experience, again pointing to the centrality of rethinking human experience prior to deep consideration of science and religion.

Keywords: experience; Hume; indeterminacy; Kant; morality; religion; science; sensations

Chapter.  7634 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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