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Songs of Experience

Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme

Martin Jay (Author)

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Few words in both everyday parlance and theoretical discourse have been as rhapsodically defended or as fervently resisted as "experience." Yet, to date, there have been no comprehensive studies of how the concept of experience has evolved over time and why so many thinkers in so many different traditions have been compelled to understand it. Songs of Experience is a remarkable history of Western ideas about the nature of human experience written by one of our best-known intellectual historians. With its sweeping historical reach and lucid comparative analysis—qualities that have made Martin Jay's previous books so distinctive and so successful—Songs of Experience explores Western discourse from the sixteenth century to the present, asking why the concept of experience has been such a magnet for controversy. Resisting any single overarching narrative, Jay discovers themes and patterns that transcend individuals and particular schools of thought and illuminate the entire spectrum of intellectual history.

As he explores the manifold contexts for understanding experience—epistemological, religious, aesthetic, political, and historical—Jay engages an exceptionally broad range of European and American traditions and thinkers from the American pragmatists and British Marxist humanists to the Frankfurt School and the French poststructuralists, and he delves into the thought of individual philosophers as well, including Montaigne, Bacon, Locke, Hume and Kant, Oakeshott, Collingwood, and Ankersmit. Provocative, engaging, erudite, this key work will be an essential source for anyone who joins the ongoing debate about the material, linguistic, cultural, and theoretical meaning of "experience" in modern cultures.
Introduction
1. The Trial of “Experience”: From the Greeks to Montaigne and Bacon
2. Experience and Epistemology: The Contest between Empiricism and Idealism
3. The Consolations of Religious Experience: Schleiermacher, James, Otto and Buber
4. Returning to the Body through Aesthetic Experience: From Kant to Dewey
5. Politics and Experience: Burke, Oakeshott and the English Marxists
6. History and Experience: Dilthey, Collingwood, Scott and Ankersmit
7. The Cult of Experience in American Pragmatism: James, Dewey and Rorty
8. Lamenting the Crisis of Experience: Benjamin and Adorno
9. The Poststructuralist Reconstitution of Experience: Bataille, Barthes and Foucault
Conclusion
Martin Jay is Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. Among his books are Refractions of Violence (2003), The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923–1950 (second edition, California, 1996), Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (California, 1993), and Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukács to Habermas (California, 1984).
“Wide-ranging, extraordinarily erudite book”—John E. Toews American Historical Review
“Songs of Experience is at once modest and extraordinarily ambitious. The erudition on display in this sweeping account of a central concept in Western philosophy over several hundred years is a wonder; the writing is clear, and the scholarship breathtaking. But it is modest in the sense that it does not announce its own point of view with any emphasis. Instead, the reader benefits from the author’s openness to thinkers as unalike as Schleiermacher and Rorty, Oakeshott and Bataille. Jay makes sense of each thinker on his own terms—and that’s because with his intellectual openness and his conceptual mediation, Jay indeed practices what he is so lightly preaching. An intellectual historian at the top of his game, he has shared his own experience of these ideas, texts, and writers. After reading this book, we can too.”—Michael Roth Bookforum
“Few in the humanities can rival Jay’s omnivorousness or match his intellectual energy.“—Terry Eagleton London Review Of Books
"Martin Jay is one of the most influential intellectual historians in contemporary America, and here he shows once again a willingness to tackle the 'big issues' in the Western cultural tradition…. A remarkable history of ideas about the nature of human experience."—Lloyd Kramer, author of Threshold of a New World

"A magisterial study of one of the most elusive, contested, and pervasively important concepts of the Western philosophical tradition. Ranging from epistemology and aesthetics to the philosophy of history, religion, and politics, Songs of Experience brilliantly traces the major lines of theory and debate. Insightful, rich, and masterfully narrated, Jay's book sings with that well-tempered voice of erudition, synthetic intelligence, and generous grace that has become his enviable trademark."—Richard Shusterman, author of Pragmatist Aesthetics

"This illuminating, provocative volume consolidates Martin Jay's standing as our leading modern intellectual historian. Ranging sure-footedly from ancient to postmodern discourse, Jay offers finely balanced readings of thinkers who have wrestled with the elusive concept of experience. Because Jay respects—and presents so clearly and sympathetically—positions different from his own, Songs of Experience gives readers the resources necessary to embrace or resist his own bold interpretations of philosophers from Kant and Burke through Dilthey and Dewey to Foucault and Rorty. This book will prove as indispensable to intellectual historians as the idea of experience itself."—James T. Kloppenberg, author of The Virtues of Liberalism
One The Trial of "Experience"

From the Greeks to Montaigne and Bacon

"'Experience', of all the words in the philosophic vocabulary is the most difficult to manage;" warns Michael Oakeshott, "and it must be the ambition of every writer reckless enough to use the word to escape the ambiguities it contains."1 Such an ambition, however, may be more typical of philosophers anxious to still the play of language and come to firm conclusions about what it purports to represent than of intellectual historians interested in the ambiguities themselves. Typically, the former employ one of two methods to reduce or eliminate polysemic uncertainty: either they legislate a privileged meaning and banish others to the margins (Oakeshott himself follows this model, explicitly stating that "I will begin, then, by indicating what I take it to denote"2), or they seek a ground of authenticity in the word's putatively "original" meaning.

Such attempts to "manage" a word, in Oakeshott's telltale metaphor, are especially dangerous when it comes to "experience." For they impose a rigid and atemporal singularity on precisely what should be acknowledged as having had a varied and changing development—on what might provisionally be itself called a semantic experience. While admitting some limits to the infinite flexibility of any term, it would be unwise to decide in advance that certain meanings are proper and others not. The lessons of Ludwig Wittgenstein's stress on meaning as use and deconstruction's tolerance of catachresis suggest that when a word has had as long and complex a history as "experience," no justice can be done to its adventures by premature semantic closure.

Etymology, to be sure, need not always be in the service of stilling linguistic ambiguity. As Derek Attridge has noted, even questionable attempts to locate a word's origin—folk etymologies, as they are often called—can make us aware of the richness of a term's denotative and connotative history: "it depends on the way in which words we regularly encounter, and treat as solid, simple wholes (representing solid, simple concepts), can be made to break apart, melt into one another, reveal themselves as divided and lacking in self-identity, with no clear boundaries and no evident center."3 Without therefore pretending that we can recapture a true point of linguistic origin—Greek, Hebrew, or Latin, the favored ur-languages of much etymological inquiry, were, after all, themselves preceded by still earlier tongues—it will be helpful to cast a glance at the evidence of sedimented meanings that many singers of the "songs of experience" have themselves invoked.4

The English word is understood to be derived most directly from the Latin experientia, which denoted "trial, proof, or experiment." The French expérience and Italian esperienza still can signify a scientific experiment (when in the indefinite form). Insofar as "to try" (expereri) contains the same root as periculum, or "danger," there is also a covert association between experience and peril, which suggests that it comes from having survived risks and learned something from the encounter (ex meaning a coming forth from). Perhaps for this reason, it can also connote a worldliness that has left innocence behind by facing and surmounting the dangers and challenges that life may present.

The Greek antecedent to the Latin is empeiria, which also serves as the root for the English word "empirical." One of the Greek schools of medicine, which drew on observation rather than authority or theory, had, in fact, been called the Empiriki and was opposed to the competing factions known as the Dogmatiki and the Methodiki. Here a crucial link between experience and raw, unreflected sensation or unmediated observation (as opposed to reason, theory, or speculation) is already evident. So too is the association between experience as dealing more with specific than general matters, with particulars rather than universals. As such, it contributes to the belief, which we will encounter in certain usages, that experiences are personal and incommunicable, rather than collective and exchangeable.

Another Greek word, pathos, is sometimes included among the antecedents to the modern concept, even if the etymological link is absent. It basically means "something that happens" in the sense of what one suffers or endures. When experience suggests an experiment, its more active or practical dimensions are activated, but when it is linked to pathos, its passive moment— the acknowledgment that experiences can befall one without being sought or desired—comes to the fore. Here patience can become a virtue, and waiting for an encounter that one cannot force is understood as a source of experience.

In German, the equivalents of "experience" merit special attention and in fact have been widely remarked in the general literature on the subject outside of Germany. Erlebnis and Erfahrung are both translated by the one English word, but have come to imply very different notions of experience. In the writings of certain theorists keen on exploiting the distinction, such as Wilhelm Dilthey, Martin Buber, and Walter Benjamin, one is often contrasted invidiously with the other (although, as we will see, not always with the same definition or evaluation). Erlebnis contains within it the root for life (Leben) and is sometimes translated as "lived experience." Although erleben is a transitive verb and implies an experience of something, Erlebnis is often taken to imply a primitive unity prior to any differentiation or objectification. Normally located in the "everyday world" (the Lebenswelt) of commonplace, untheorized practices, it can also suggest an intense and vital rupture in the fabric of quotidian routine. Although Leben can suggest the entirety of a life, Erlebnis generally connotes a more immediate, pre-reflective, and personal variant of experience than Erfahrung.

The latter is sometimes associated with outer, sense impressions or with cognitive judgments about them (especially in the tradition associated with Immanuel Kant). But it also came to mean a more temporally elongated notion of experience based on a learning process, an integration of discrete moments of experience into a narrative whole or an adventure. This latter view, which is sometimes called a dialectical notion of experience, connotes a progressive, if not always smooth, movement over time, which is implied by the Fahrt (journey) embedded in Erfahrung and the linkage with the German word for danger (Gefahr). As such, it activates a link between memory and experience, which subtends the belief that cumulative experience can produce a kind of wisdom that comes only at the end of the day. Although by no means always the case, Erlebnis often suggests individual ineffability, whereas Erfahrung can have a more public, collective character. But we will see variants of each invoked in the opposite way.

If the etymological evidence suggests anything, it is that "experience" is a term rife with sedimented meanings that can be actualized for a variety of different purposes and juxtaposed to a range of putative antonyms. As the German case shows, two distinct and competing variants of what in English is one term are even possible. It enables both the lamentation, which we encountered in the introduction, that "experience" (in one of the senses of Erfahrung) is no longer possible and the apparently contradictory claim that we now live in a veritable "experience society" (Erlebnisgesellschaft).5 It allows us both to "appeal" to experience, as if it were always a thing in the past, and to "hunger" for it, as if it were something that one might enjoy in the future. It permits a distinction between the noun "experience" as something that one can be said to "have" or "to have learned from" and the verb "to experience" or the process of "experiencing," the latter suggesting what one is now "doing" or "feeling." 6 Because it can encompass what is being experienced as well as the subjective process of experiencing it, the word can sometimes function as an umbrella term to overcome the epistemological split between subject and object; the American pragmatists were especially fond of using it in this way. If one adds the possibility of frequently employed adjectival modifiers, such as "lived," "inner," and "genuine," it is easy to understand why the term has had so lively a history and continues to exercise such a hold on our imagination.

That history, it should be immediately emphasized, has not always been one of consistent celebration. In fact, in classical thought, it is frequently argued, what we now recognize as the antecedents of the term played a very modest, at times even negative, role. "In the Greek period," runs a typical account, "the notion did not exist much beyond the bare term empeiria, which occurs, for example, in the Metaphysics and Ethics of Aristotle as a kind of semantic seed for his commentators to develop. Perhaps following this lead, the notion of experience in the Latin period was confined to the action of the sensible thing making itself an object by its own action upon the organ of sense."7 The neglect or even denigration of experience in classical thought is often connected to the hierarchical bias of the rationalist tradition that elevates ideas, intellect, and purity of form over the messiness and uncertainty of everyday life.

Perhaps the most influential exponent of this characterization was the American philosopher John Dewey, who was anxious to ground his pragmatist alternative to idealist rationalism in a renewed respect for experience.8 According to Dewey, the classical denigration of experience prevailed until the seventeenth century and was based on contempt for the imperfections of mere opinion, as opposed to the certainties of science. Experience, reliant more on custom and habit than on rational explanations for the causes of things, was distrusted by Plato as an obstacle to true knowledge. He disliked it not because it was "subjective," a charge later leveled by modern defenders of a putatively "objective" science, but because it dealt with matters of chance and contingency. Experience meant for Plato and the tradition he engendered, so Dewey averred, "enslavement to the past, to custom. Experience was almost equivalent to established customs formed not by reason or under intelligent control but by repetition and blind rule of thumb."9 At the opposite end of the spectrum were the necessary truths of mathematics, which were eternally valid, whether derived from the experience of a fallible subject or not.

Although Aristotle modified his predecessor's hostility to empeiria and rejected a faith in intuitive rationality and deductive demonstration, even he saw a progress from mere sense impressions, driven as they were in large measure by appetite, through organized perceptions to a more rational form of cognition based on dispassionate science. The latter had to transcend the contingency of individual events and be true universally.10 If experience had a location for classical philosophy, as Dewey understood it, it was in the non-contemplative activities that were subsumed under the category of "practice." Whereas theory, as the etymology of the word theoria suggests, was understood to rely on a disinterested, spectatorial view of the world, practice was deemed insufficiently distant from the world in which it was immersed to produce reliable knowledge. Summarizing his argument, Dewey specified three flaws of experience for Greek philosophy:

There is the contrast of empirical knowledge (strictly speaking, of belief and opinion rather than knowledge) with science. There is the restricted and dependent nature of practice in contrast with the free character of rational thought. And there is the metaphysical basis for these two defects of experience: the fact that sense and bodily action are confined to the realm of phenomena while reason in its inherent nature is akin to ultimate reality. The threefold contrast thus implies a metaphysical depreciation of experience, an epistemological one, and, coloring both of the others and giving them their human value, a moral one: the difference in worth between activity that is limited to the body and to physical things, originating in need and serving temporal utilities, and that which soars to ideal and eternal values.11

Although conceding that the Greeks were right to suspect the reliability of experience as they knew it—prior, that is, to the advent of experimental methods that could intersubjectively verify what had been experienced—Dewey claimed that the Greeks were wrong to pit reason against it as if the opposition were eternal and unbridgeable. Their fetish of universality, necessity, and abstraction meant that the classical philosophers had failed to understand the value of practical, if fallible, activity in the world, which Dewey set out to rescue.

Whether Dewey's own account of experience was itself fully successful is an issue we will try to address in a later chapter. Whether his characterization of the Greeks was itself valid has been called into question by a variety of commentators. They have raised four major objections: First, it has been demonstrated that Greek science, especially such fields as medicine, optics, and acoustics, was not as a priori and hostile to empirical observation and even calculated experimentation as Dewey assumed.12 Filtered through later accounts by critics such as the Skeptics and early Christians, Greek science had been mischaracterized as based entirely on dubious thought-experiments, on syllogistic deductions, rather than on the sense-based results of empeiria. The same prejudice informed Francis Bacon's influential remarks on the subject, which were motivated in part by his hostility to the still potent effects of Aristotelian Scholasticism.13 But more recent research, combined with a dissolution of the rigid distinction between theory and empirical observation, has shown how problematic such sweeping generalizations really are.

Second, it has been noted that literary evidence suggests a considerable popular reservation about the wisdom of purely "theoretical" man.14 Despite Plato's attempt to banish it from the state, the legacy of the Homeric epic—and has there ever been as vivid a depiction of the perilous Fahrt in Erfahrung as the Odyssey?—was never entirely forgotten. In the plays of Euripides and Aristophanes, the tradition of anti-empirical idealism identified by Dewey with Greek thought tout court was subjected to withering satire.15 Plato's notorious hostility to theatrical representation was earned in part by the resistance, presented on the stage, to his celebration of rational speculation.

Third, it has been argued that however much the mainstream philosophical tradition may have privileged the vita contemplativa, in the daily life of the Greek citizen in the democratic polis, the vita activa was given its due.16 In direct opposition to Plato's authoritarian republic run by philosopher-kings, the Athens of Pericles was a locus of political practice in which deeds and words rather than pure ideas were paramount. Political life was itself akin to theater in its performative affirmation of heroism in the presence of an appreciative audience, an audience capable of turning deeds into narratives to be shared with future generations. The value of what the Greeks called phronesis, or practical wisdom, also meant that pure speculation was not the only valid mode of knowledge. It combined, a recent commentator has noted, "the generality of reflection on principles with the particularity of perception into a given situation. It is distinguished from theoretical knowledge (episteme) in that it is concerned, not with something universal and eternally the same, but with something particular and changeable. It requires experience as well as knowledge."17

Finally, the value of experience within Greek philosophy itself has become more widely appreciated since the time of Dewey. In part this has meant acknowledging, as one recent observer has put it, that "philosophically, the notion of experience traces to Greek thought, especially to Aristotle."18 Although Aristotle's final remarks in book 6 of his Nicomachean Ethics do denigrate phronesis in favor of theoria, elsewhere he notes that "the unproved assertions and opinions of experienced, old, and sagacious people deserve as much attention as those they support by proofs, for they grasp principles through experience."19 Aristotle's brief, but seminal discussions of the scientific dependency on empeiria in the Metaphysics and Posterior Analytics recognize its links with memory and particularity,20 even if Aristotle himself was ultimately unable to break entirely with what has been called the "aristocratic" bias for universals and demonstrative logic inherited from Plato.

A less equivocal appreciation of the significance of experience can be discerned among other ancient philosophers, most notably the Cynics and the Sophists. Diogenes' transgressive restitution of the body with all of its squalid needs and irreparable imperfections against the idealist celebration of the rational mind—his basely materialist reversal of the traditional hierarchy of values—implied an openness to what specific sensual experiences might teach.21 His famous lantern was directed at worldly sights encountered on a voyage of discovery, not at the eternal forms blazing in a Platonic firmament.

So too, the Sophists' insistence on Man rather than Platonic Forms as the focus of philosophical inquiry meant that sense-experience had to be taken seriously as a vehicle of knowledge. According to Protagoras, "man is the master of all experiences, in regard to the 'phenomenality' of what is real and the 'non-phenomenality' of what is not real."22 Although Gorgias concluded that experience, riven by contradictions, could never be reconciled with reason, other Sophists such as Antiphon sought to promulgate a more holistic understanding of the term, which would avoid irrationalist skepticism.23 The Sophists' stress on rhetoric against dialectic, logic, and mathematics meant that they were alert to the importance of oral as opposed to written language, language meant to persuade and influence an audience rather than demonstrate a truth, language for the ear and not the eye.24 In its performative mode, language was thus tied both to the theatricality decried by the Platonic tradition and to the intersubjectivity that was part of experience understood as an encounter with otherness.

One last consideration must be mentioned, which concerns the reception of Platonism in the history of debates over experience. For ironically, although it has often served as a barrier to the acceptance of experience as an epistemological category, when experience was understood in aesthetic or religious terms, the Platonic notion of intuition could be a positive influence. As Ernst Cassirer has shown, the revival of Platonism in the Renaissance and its spread to England through the Cambridge School (most notably Henry More, Benjamin Whichcote, and Ralph Cudworth) in the seventeenth century helped generate the discourse of aesthetic experience launched by Shaftesbury.25 Friedrich Schleiermacher, the foremost defender of religious experience, was also deeply indebted to Plato, all but three of whose Dialogues he translated into German.26

These caveats notwithstanding, it is still hard to deny a certain truth to Dewey's characterization of the relatively modest role played by experience, however defined, in mainstream classical thought. Sophistic rhetoric did not, after all, win its struggle with demonstrative logic, and Cynics like Diogenes remained outsiders with little immediate impact until they were remade into bourgeois heroes in the eighteenth century.27 The legacy of Plato and Aristotle, with varying coherence and often eclectically combined with elements of non-Greek thought, dominated medieval philosophy. As a result, the ephemeral happenings of everyday life were rendered marginal in the search for universal truths. Although medieval writers were fond of invoking the Aristotelian formula "nihil in intellectu quod non prius in sensu" (nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses), 28 they quickly moved on to the higher truths of divinely inspired reason. Instead of the evidence of the senses or the results of controlled experimentation, church doctrine and the authorities of the Ancients provided the grounds of metaphysical belief and, to a great extent, natural philosophy.29 Scholasticism was more interested in making rational arguments for the existence of God than in probing the religious experience of the believer. Aristotle's claim that sensation meant the reception of sensible forms was preserved in the belief that objective "species" were the source of perception. Even when the thirteenth-century monk Roger Bacon proposed a Scientia Experimentalis to complement the Sacra Doctrina, he meant divine illumination as much as sense perception and seems to have included within it occult practices such as alchemy and astrology.30 In general, little respect was accorded to empirical observation by itself as a valid source of wisdom or reliable knowledge in the sense of scientia rigorously differentiated from mere opinion, although medieval students of astronomy, anatomy, and other sciences did rely, at least in part, on observation.31 Significantly, experimentum was often associated with magic and other "low sciences," and the term "Emperick" was used in a derogatory manner, often in medical contexts as a synonym for a quack, well into the seventeenth century.32

Perhaps the one major exception to this general disdain for experience, at least in one of its varieties, can be found in the work of Augustine, whose confessional ruminations on his own spiritual journey have often been seen as the starting point for later explorations of "inner experience." "It is hardly an exaggeration to say," writes Charles Taylor, "that it was Augustine who introduced the inwardness of radical reflexivity and bequeathed it to the Western tradition of thought."33 Augustine's reliance on first-person narrative and the role of personal recollection promoted the development of a practice of introspective examination that took experience seriously. According to Hans Blumenberg, "Augustine's memoria [memory] specifies for the first time an organ and a content from which something that can be described as 'inner experience' can constitute itself."34

Augustinian inner experience was, to be sure, not yet directed at encounters with the profane world—in fact, his abhorrence of the sin of curiositas led to the opposite outcome—and memory could be marshaled in the service of a more impersonal Platonic anamnesis. Although there were certainly medieval movements that implicitly valued experience over following rules, such as the communal order of Franciscans who imitated Jesus's life of poverty and humility, they were still relatively isolated occurrences, often losing out in the struggle against dogmatic church authority.35 It was not really until the dawning of what we now like to call the modern age that the "trial" of experience, like that of the curiosity whose comparable valorization is traced by Blumenberg in The Legitimacy of the Modern Age,36ended in an acquittal for the defendant, or more precisely, with a hung jury that continues to debate its merits to this day. With the erosion of trust in Scholastic rationalism, the loss of the Catholic Church's corner on spiritual power, and the reversal of the hierarchy of the Ancients and the Moderns, modernity sought a new ground of legitimacy. As Jürgen Habermas has put it, "Modernity can and will no longer borrow the criteria from the models supplied by another epoch; it has to create its normativity out of itself."37

In one sense, to be sure, this search meant a tacit disdain for experience when it was identified solely with the accumulated wisdom of the past and thus considered a bulwark of traditional authority. In fact, according to Reinhart Koselleck, modernity (in German, Neuzeit) was first conscious of itself as a "new time"—he puts the change in the eighteenth century—when "expectations have distanced themselves from all previous experience."38 That is, a spatial notion of past and present as simultaneously effective, with no privilege given to what is most recent or potentially to come, was replaced in modernity by a temporal alternative in which a horizon of expectation finds its legitimacy in an imagined future unbeholden to the past. The very historical sense that we associate with modern self-consciousness, in particular its belief in progress, is, Koselleck argues, dependent on the loss of faith in the seamless continuity of past with present and future.

Although, as we will see when examining the politically conservative appeal to something called past "experience" in figures such as Edmund Burke, the rupture was not complete, at least one acceptation of the term—which identifies it entirely with learning from the "lessons" of the past—had now paradoxically acquired the pejorative meaning lingering from the classical period. Even so resolute a twentieth-century champion of Erfahrung as Walter Benjamin would have to work his way past that negative connotation in his effort to revive the term for radical purposes.39 But understood more in terms of a present reality than as a residue of the past and benefiting from the new appreciation of transience and ephemerality, "experience" did emerge at the threshold of modernity as at least a serious contender for the role abdicated by older and now discredited grounds of legitimacy.

The changed attitude was evident in a number of different contexts. In religion, where the unity of the medieval church and its monopoly of doctrinal authority had been shattered, both the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation found in "experience" a possible resource in the struggle for souls. For many Protestants, what has been called the "affirmation of ordinary life"40 meant a new focus on the details of quotidian existence in the family or pious community rather than on the fidelity to doctrinal teachings or the rituals of the church. "Not scripture alone," Martin Luther insisted, "but experience also. . . . I have the matter itself and experience together with Scripture. . . . Experience alone makes a theologian."41 The spiritual journey, that "pilgrim's progress" best exemplified in John Bunyan's celebrated parable, involved the perilous encounter with otherness and retrospective narration that were central aspects of the dialectical notion of experience. Although one's natural birth may not have been experienceable, a conversion crisis—being, in the now familiar metaphor, "born again"—certainly was. The immediacy of spiritual life, no longer filtered through the offices of an ecclesiastical hierarchy, produced a constant examination of behavior and motivations, grounded in the belief that, as the Pietist leader Count von Zinzendorf put it in 1732, "religion must be a matter which is able to be grasped through experience alone without any concepts."42 The powerful tradition of a specifically "religious experience," which we will examine more closely in chapter 3, first emerged in this context.

If among many Protestants, the evocation of "experience" could mean a democratic leveling of access to the holy, for certain figures in the Catholic Counter-Reformation, a very different implication might be drawn. Here the value of a specifically mystical variant of religiosity, which Thomas Aquinas had specifically defined as "cognitio dei experimentalis"43 (knowledge of God through experience), gained a new hearing. According to Gershom Scholem, the great historian of its Jewish variant, mysticism tends to appear at a stage of religious development when a prior unity between the sacred and the profane, between God and His world, is felt with particular keenness as a lost but potentially recapturable condition.44 Operating within traditional religions, rather than constituting radical attempts to create new ones, mysticism seeks to repair the rupture that it sees between the divine and the mundane.

Although certainly antedating the Reformation—indeed, one might argue that the mystical quest for unity begins with the monotheistic separation of a transcendent God from His creation—it seems to have been given a new impetus by the crisis of medieval Christianity, as well as by social and political upheavals.45 Unlike the everyday vigilance against sin promoted by Protestant preachers as a practice for all to follow, mystical experience was reserved only for religious virtuosi, those with a special gift for ecstatic self-immolation or the discipline to focus intently the mind and emotions on only one goal, which has been called recollection.46 As the seventeenth-century French mystic Jean-Joseph Surin explained in his Science expérimentale, whereas "faith" is the commonplace path to salvation for the many, genuine mystical "experience" is only for "the few."47 By the time of William Blake, however, the elitist implications of mysticism could be challenged and the hope expressed that all men might sing "songs of experience."48 But whatever the possibilities for the realization of such a program, "experience" had gained a new connotation, as an especially intense and deep phenomenon that can even become an end in itself once its religious function is left behind.

In the more humanist environment that produced the Renaissance, a comparable valorization of the exceptional individual, that self-fashioning uomo singolare or uomo unico whose importance has been recognized ever since Jakob Burckhardt,49 can be discerned. But here too a somewhat more egalitarian implication might ultimately be drawn from the new fascination with the singular subject. Perhaps the great exemplar of this new sensibility was Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), who, despite his occasional placement within the Baroque era or even within a putative counter-Renaissance, typifies the Renaissance fascination with experience, now extended to commonplace people and mundane events. Insofar as his remarkable contribution to the discourse on experience has become a standard against which many others have been compared and often found wanting, it will be necessary to linger for a while in Montaigne's presence (a temptation to which it is easy to succumb because of the undiminished power of his remarkable oeuvre).

Montaigne and Humanist Experience Montaigne's celebrated Essays significantly culminate with a long meditation written in 1587-88, when he was fifty-six, entitled "Of Experience." Having himself been an active participant in the affairs of his day—an aristocrat by birth, he served as magistrate for the Bordeaux parlement from 1557 to 1570—Montaigne had retired to his chateau in the Périgord for the last two decades of his life to ruminate on the humbling lessons he had learned.50 As he pointedly remarked, "on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump."51 Although returning to public service for periods in the 1580s, he had the leisure to produce the most elaborate record of introspection—a kind of extended auto-interview, as one commentator has called it52—in the more than a millennium between Augustine's Confessions and those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Montaigne's Essays—their very title suggesting exploratory, tentative experiments rather than settled dogma—document his journey of self-discovery, as well as his extraordinarily keen observations about the human condition. Colloquial, idiosyncratic, accessible in style, they struggle to allow the personal voice of the author to emerge amid the alienated writing on his page. That voice is clearly in search of a sympathetic ear, such as the one Montaigne had lost with the death of his beloved friend Étienne de la Boètie in 1563.53 Confession in the traditional Christian sense of speaking through a priest to God will no longer suffice; Montaigne's imagined dialogue is with a worldly audience, which will recognize itself in his reflections. Here experiences are to be shared, not hoarded.

But Montaigne also seems to have understood the limits to vicarious identification and the uniqueness of his particular life history. Schooled in classical learning but reluctant to accept the priority of the ancients, he defiantly exclaimed, "I would rather be an authority on myself than on Cicero."54 Revealing a fondness for cheeky irreverence that recalls Diogenes of Sinope, Montaigne preferred the debunking materialist to the Platonic idealist, whose faith in universal rationality he could not share. Noting that a philosopher had once implored Diogenes to read more books, he approvingly cited the Cynic's reply: "You are jesting. . . . you choose real and natural figs, not painted ones, why don't you also choose real and natural exercises, not written ones?"55

Reversing the traditional hierarchical privileging of timeless verities over transient appearances and tacitly rejecting the mystical quest for unity with the divine, Montaigne boldly asserted, "I do not portray being: I portray passing."56 Time, he understood, should not be measured against a putative eternal plenitude and found wanting; living in the moment was not inferior to living for eternity. Nor could imperfect memory serve to totalize the entire story into a fully meaningful narrative at the end of the day, however much it might be worth probing for shards of the past.57 As a result, Montaigne could be interpreted by some observers as typifying the heightened sensitivity to the transitory, fleeting, and ephemeral that characterized the Baroque, with its embrace of the manifold contradictions of experience.58

Significantly, in the remarkable essay that bears that name, Montaigne never attempted to define (or in Oakeshott's sense, "manage") the word "experience," allowing its meaning—or multiple meanings—to be revealed piecemeal in the process of reading itself.59 The essay's lessons come in part from comparing successive examples in a way that subtly acknowledges both their similarities and their differences.60 More like an unruly life than a logical demonstration, "Of Experience" meanders digressively, combining anecdotes and aperçus with arguments and quotations, reprising themes and coming at them from different angles. Its own temporality, rhythmically uneven and irreducible to a unified narrative, duplicates the unsystematic ruminations on time itself to be found in Montaigne's work as a whole.61 What Goethe indignantly said when asked whether his greatest play could be reduced to an idea—"the life I portray in Faust is rich and many-colored and very various, and a fine thing it would have been, I must say, if I had attempted to thread that on to the thin string of a single pervading idea!"62—could just as easily have served as Montaigne's defense for the seemingly undisciplined structure of "Of Experience," which performatively instantiates what it substantively argues.

To define unequivocally or reason deductively, Montaigne implied, was to short-circuit the unpredictable learning process that made experience so valuable. Spurning the comparable attempt to achieve justice by legislating binding and univocal laws under which cases could effortlessly be subsumed, Montaigne drew instead on his own years as a magistrate to make a brief for individual judges to interpret and apply abstract rules in specific cases on the basis of feeling as well as intellect.63 Efforts by Protestants to still debate by appealing to the literal word of Holy Scripture, he likewise argued, were based on an equally fruitless premise, "as if there were less animosity and bitterness in commenting than in inventing!"64

Montaigne's distrust of any attempt to achieve absolute truth evinces the debt he owed to the revival of skepticism that came with the recovery of the Pyrrhonist writings of Sextus Empiricus in the 1560s and renewed interest in the "Academic" skepticism of Cicero.65 Although never explicitly rejecting Catholicism, Montaigne clearly had absorbed many of the criticisms leveled against its dogmatic theology during the Reformation, refusing to believe in miracles or witchcraft and resisting arguments for natural sinfulness. His friendship with the French king Henri IV has often been accounted of significance in the promulgation of the Edict of Nantes in 1598, which authorized tolerance of the Huguenots. Resolutely worldly, attuned to the pleasures and pains of the flesh, Montaigne delighted in the creaturely sensuality that the church so often had repudiated. He thus focused his attention not on salvation, but on living the good life, a lesson that would endear him to the freethinkers of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.66

But what "experience" had taught him was that no life was free of its paradoxes, ironies, and disappointments. Whether or not one accepts the traditional periodization of his career into stoical, skeptical, and then epicurean phases, it is clear that Montaigne was keenly aware throughout of the limits of the human condition, including the uncertain reliability of the senses.67 Even Protagoras's celebrated claim, so dear to humanist self-affirmation, that Man was the measure of all things did not escape his suspicion.68 As a result, a reading of his legacy in fideistic terms was possible, as shown by the Christian Pyrrhonism of the Counter-Reformation theologians Pierre Charon and Jean-Pierre Camus, which owed so much to his example.69

Montaigne, in fact, never allowed his doubts to turn into outright misanthropy or a disillusioned retreat from the world of his fellow men. When he chose as his motto the skeptical question "Que sais-je?" (what do I know?), he seems to have meant it as a tribute to the figure of Socrates, who was wise to the extent that he knew the limits of his knowledge, which meant the inability to refute as well as confirm many of our beliefs.70 The lesson he derived from Socrates, as Montaigne's great admirer Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, was that "knowledge is the knowing that we can not know."71 Socrates, moreover, did not pit the mind against the senses, thus avoiding a problematic dualism: "He prizes bodily pleasure as he should," Montaigne approvingly noted, "but he prefers that of the mind, as having more power, constancy, ease, variety, and dignity. The latter by no means goes alone, according to him—he is not so fanciful—but only comes first. For him temperance is the moderator, not the adversary, of pleasures."72 Montaigne's attitude toward the body was that of someone who inhabited it fully as a lived reality, not that of an observer who could examine it from afar as an object in the world. Self-understanding, he demonstrated, should not be the same as an autopsy performed on a corpse, a sentiment that has earned him comparison with such twentieth-century phenomenologists as Maurice Merleau-Ponty.73

Montaigne's own remarkable serenity and balance, his capacity to live with uncertainty and doubt and find solace in a world of contradictions and ambiguities, was perhaps best expressed in his acceptance, even affirmation, of the frailty of the human condition and the inevitability of the one threshold that could not really be experienced: that of death. "To philosophize," he agreed with Cicero (and anticipated Martin Heidegger), "is nothing else but to prepare for death. . . . Let us rid it of its strangeness, come to know it, get used to it. Let us have nothing on our minds as often as death."74 But unlike other challenges, it was impossible, he admitted, to learn about death through actual experience: "for dying, which is the greatest task we have to perform, practice cannot help us. A man can, by habit and experience, fortify himself against pain, shame, indigence, and such other accidents; but as for death, we can try it only once: we are all apprentices when we come to it."75 The closest we can approximate it is by swooning into unconsciousness, thus momentarily losing our grip on selfhood. Our experience of sleep provides another suggestive analogue, but one that is mediated at best. Montaigne, Giorgio Agamben writes, "can formulate the ultimate goal of experience as a nearing to death—that is, man's advance to maturity through an anticipation of death as the extreme limit of experience. But for Montaigne this limit remains something that cannot be experienced, which can only be approached."76 In this exploration of what more recent thinkers would call a "limit-experience," Montaigne revealed an awareness of the unresolvable paradoxes within even the most authentic and fulfilled experience. In this sense, as Richard Regosin has remarked, "paradoxically, death becomes an emblematic experience"77 for Montaigne because it signifies the limits of all experience. Whereas the later adepts of limit-experiences were to evince a restless desire to push the boundaries as far out as possible, Montaigne seems to have been cheerfully resigned to what life as he knew it might provide.

Bacon and Experience as Scientific Experiment In fact, it was this reserve about the desirability of turning experience into a potentially perilous experiment that made Montaigne, for all his attractions, an inadequate model for modern man at his most restless and ambitious. "Montaigne, the skeptic, is conservative," Blumenberg observes, "because he sees man's imagination as constrained by the limits of his experience; and for him, the realm of that experience is still a constant magnitude. He cannot know that any progress whatever would be possible here."78 But modern thinkers who were keen on "progressing" beyond a state of relativist tolerance for ambiguity and the endurance of life's misfortunes could not rest content with Montaigne's credo, "I study myself more than any other subject. That is my metaphysics, that is my physics."79 They wanted to move out into the world and scrutinize it instead in the hope of finding new and reliable knowledge, knowledge that would help master what had hitherto been outside of human control. Montaigne's skepticism about sense experience led them not to introspective resignation, but to a search for a new means of compensating for its failings and for instruments that would overcome the untrustworthy effects of raw sensation.

"Experience," the great experimental chemist Robert Boyle insisted, "is but an assistant to reason, since it doth indeed supply information to the understanding, but the understanding still remains the judge, and has the power or right to examine and make use of the testimonies that are presented to it."80 But the understanding is itself in the service of a more practical outcome. Modern science had what Amos Funkenstein has called an ergetic, as opposed to a contemplative, model of knowledge, one based on doing more than on mere reasoning.81 Francis Bacon in particular sought to tie truth to utility and integrate science and technology.82 But it was a doing whose end was not experience for its own sake, but rather the knowledge of the external world that it might provide.

Thus, at virtually the same time as the trial of "experience" seemed to leave it victorious over an antiquated scholastic rationalism or religious dogmatism, providing a holistic integration of soul and body, individual and culture, knowledge and faith, new critics emerged to call its value—or at least self-sufficiency—into question. In the towering figures of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and René Descartes (1596-1650), a more specifically modern distrust of the claims of at least one variant of experience—that defended by Montaigne's Essays—was first made explicit.83 Rejecting the serenity of Montaigne's chateau in the Périgord, Bacon and Descartes set out to pass through the pillars of Hercules—as had Odysseus depicted on the frontispiece of Bacon's 1620 Instauratio magna (Great Renewal)84—and explore the unknown world. Whereas he was content to remain on the level of particularity and idiosyncrasy, mulling over the lessons of common sense, they sought systematic and universal knowledge—Bacon still talked of "forms" in nature85—that would transcend the prejudices of hoi polloi. Whereas he acknowledged the often messy conflation of logic and rhetoric, they generally sought to privilege the former over the latter.86 Whereas he remained satisfied with opinion, ephemerality, and probability, they desired scientific truth and absolute certainty based on designed, rather than random, encounters with the external world and rule-governed explanations of those encounters.87 Whereas his approach was totalizing and dialectical, theirs was atomistic and reductive, seeking truth beneath the level of visible surfaces. Whether we see the ambitions of Bacon and Descartes as a bold new departure or, as Stephen Toulmin has suggested,88 a frightened response to the increased political, religious, and economic turmoil of the seventeenth century, the result was a loss of faith in the possibility of that integrated, balanced, holistic, but always open-ended and provisional experience celebrated in Montaigne's Essays.

Perhaps nothing demonstrates the change more clearly than the difference in their attitudes toward the greatest challenge to everyday, commonsensical experience produced by the new science: the Copernican revolution in astronomy. In his "Apology for Raymond Sebond," Montaigne notes Copernicus's new theory, which he says contradicts traditional wisdom, and then asks: "What are we to get out of that, unless that we should not bother which of the two is so? And who knows whether a third opinion, a thousand years from now, will not overthrow the preceding? . . . Thus when some new doctrine is offered to us, we have great occasion to distrust it, and to consider that before it was produced its opposite was in vogue; and, as it was overthrown by this one, there may arise in the future a third invention that will likewise smash the second."89 For Bacon and Descartes, in contrast, the Ptolemaic universe had been definitively disproven, and the geocentric, commonplace "experience" that had made it plausible was discarded in favor of a truer understanding of the cosmos, one that eagerly moved beyond the finite perspective of the contingent human subject.90

The "quest for certainty" Dewey famously called the tradition that descended from Bacon and Descartes, a desire for a knowledge that can transcend the framework out of which it emerges and earn from all rational men a justified confidence in its veracity.91 If Montaigne's experience seemed to provide only perspectivalist, fallible knowledge and a return to the discredited rationalism of the Scholastics was impossible, it was necessary to begin anew, providing what Bacon called a "great instauration"92 and trust only in what could be verified by rigorous rules of inquiry. "Experience" in its traditional sense, Bacon complained, "is blind and silly, so that while men roam and wander along without any definitive course, merely taking counsel of such things as happen to come before them, they range widely, yet move little further forward."93 But there was an alternative: "the right order for experience is to kindle a light, then with that light to show the way, beginning with experience ordered and arranged, not irregular and erratic, and from that deriving axioms, and from the axioms thus established deriving again new experiments, just as the word of God operated in an orderly way on the unformed matter of creation."94 What Bacon called experientia literata—informed or learned experiences that have been "taught how to read and write"—was the first step to essential knowledge.95 The result would be those privileged cognitive units that modern science would deem verifiable "facts."96

The belief that the proper procedure might be found that could provide such a God-like verification began well before the scientific revolution—Walter Ong traced its origins back to the Greek methodus, a pursuit of knowledge developed in particular by the second-century Hellenic rhetorician Hermogenes, and discerned its revival in the dialectical logic of the sixteenth-century Frenchman Peter Ramus97—but it is only with the scientific revolution that what might be called a fetish of method can be said to have begun.98 As one commentator has put it, " 'Method' served an analogous function to that of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic tradition because it identified the hidden source of a tradition's legitimacy."99 Although the result was never a wholesale repudiation of the testimony of unaided sense experience—Descartes, after all, had said we are sometimes deceived, not always100—the growing prestige of mathematics and the increased tempo of technological innovation combined to diminish its authority.

Descartes' more deductive and geometric rationalism, based on a belief in innate ideas,101 was ultimately less successful among scientists than the inductive alternative preached by Bacon, who stressed the importance of an organized and continuous program of research carried out by a community of scientists.102 Montaigne had cautioned in his "Of Experience" that "the inference that we try to draw from the resemblance of events is uncertain, because they are always dissimilar; there is no quality so universal in this aspect of things as diversity and variety."103 But such qualms were brushed aside in the wake of the discoveries produced by the scientific revolution. The enormously influential Isaac Newton was taken to be on Bacon's side rather than Montaigne's or, for that matter, Descartes'. Gone was the assumption of earlier figures such as Paracelsus that sympathetic insight into and identification with the hidden workings of nature, like the Protestant's inner illumination, could be a source of valid knowledge.104 Gone too was the prejudice against anomalous cases, those "monsters" presumed to be irrelevant to an understanding of the ordinary workings of God's nature; now they could be taken as privileged instances of still deeper regularities.105 Soon the ideal of generalization from replicable experiences, which then sought to explain what had been observed according to the workings of natural laws, became enthroned as the "scientific method" tout court, however often it may have been violated in actual scientific practice and whatever the problems it may have posed for certain sciences such as evolutionary biology.

Among the consequences of the fetish of method for the fortunes of "experience," four can be singled out for special attention. First, the new identification of reliable and certain experience with verifiable experimentation meant a belief in the repeatability and public quality of experience, at least when it was invoked to provide a source of valid knowledge. Although as a first move Descartes may have emulated Montaigne's retreat into the skeptical self that had only its doubt as an indisputable truth, he quickly returned to the reality of the world that was present—courtesy of a non-deceiving God—in clear and distinct ideas in the consciousness of that indubitable self. He had, to be sure, restricted certain knowledge to aspects of reality, notably the extension and movement of bodies, while acknowledging that others, such as color or sound, were dependent on the untrustworthy sensorium of the subject.106 But Descartes was confident that at least what philosophers were soon to call "primary" as opposed to "secondary" characteristics could be known by all.

With Bacon, the uniqueness and ineffability of "inner experience" was replaced by the intersubjectively confirmable data of the controlled experiment. Because the right method could be learned by others, experience must be communicable, not merely intelligible. It must, in fact, be potentially available to anyone willing to follow the prescribed procedures, which, unlike the secret devices of magicians (or the special exercises of religious virtuosi) were to be fully accessible.107 Scientists were not to be like Montaigne's judges, relying on the uncertainties of the hermeneutic arts, but should be governed instead by the right rules of inquiry and proof. "Solomon's House," which Bacon described in The New Atlantis of 1627, became the model for the proliferation of scientific academies that began with the Royal Society in 1662. The project of a great encyclopedia of all known knowledge, whose implementation had to await Diderot and the philosophes, was already there in Bacon's call for an inventory of scientific knowledge open to all eyes.108 Although it is true, as Timothy J. Reiss has argued, that those with access to this knowledge were still for Bacon a tacit elite possessing a kind of "experimental literacy," in principle the method was learnable by everyone.109 A new confidence in verifiable and trustworthy reports of specific experiments—what has been called "virtual witnessing"110 extrapolated from gentlemanly codes of honorable conduct and civility—allowed the rapid dissemination of new findings. Paradoxically, this democratization of the subject of experience also meant its implicit reduction to a single universal model, which was the disembodied, spectatorial Cartesian cogito, assumed to be normative for all humans. Although Montaigne's subject was able to share with others his unique experiences, he did not assume that these experiences were perfectly fungible with those of his interlocutors. With the Cartesian and Baconian subject, in contrast, qualitative difference was subsumed under quantitative commensurability and a tacit metasubject of cognition, enjoying a "view from nowhere," was born. The psychological subject with all its personal history and idiosyncratic appetites was split off from its epistemological double, with the latter now assumed to be species-wide in scope. As Taylor puts it, "what Descartes calls on us to do is to stop living 'in' or 'through' the experience, to treat it itself as an object, or what is the same thing, as an experience which could just as well have been someone else's."111 Not surprisingly, later critics of the Eurocentric and androcentric underpinnings of modern subjectivity would find Descartes' cogito and Bacon's collective domination of nature inviting targets and seek to bring back a more culturally mediated and corporeally situated notion of incommensurable experiences.112

A second significant implication followed from this distinction between the psychological and epistemological subject. The transcendentalization and depersonalization of the latter meant the extension of its lifespan beyond that of the individual human being. The project of exploring nature was a cumulative one, with no terminal point except perfect knowledge.113 As a result, that profound confrontation with our inevitable finitude so much a part of Montaigne's notion of experience was now banished. He had said that "there is no end to our researches; our end is in the other world;"114 Bacon, Descartes, and their followers replied that the subject of scientific experience, the ongoing community of disinterested inquirers, was immortal. The limit-experience that was death no longer interrupted its interminable quest for knowledge.

Third, whereas for Montaigne (and the more dialectical notion of experience) the memory of past trials and failures remains part of the experience itself, for the scientific method that memory is deliberately obliterated as no longer relevant. For the scientific method, as Hans-Georg Gadamer notes, "experience is valid only if it is confirmed; hence its dignity depends on its fundamental repeatability. But this means that experience, by its very nature, abolishes history."115 Descartes' well-known gesture of sweeping away the past as doubtful authority was matched by Bacon's unmasking of the false ideas, or idola (of the Tribe, the Cave, the Marketplace, and the Theater), whose mystifying charms had produced only confusion in previous thinkers. The foundationalist quest so often attributed to modern philosophy as a whole was thus intimately tied to that growing gap between past experience and the horizon of expectation noted by Koselleck as an identifying mark of the Neuzeit. Montaigne's cautious respect for the ancients, as well as his fascination with the proverbs and maxims handed down by folk tradition, was now seen as outmoded. A new respect for unique historical experiences, the experimentum crucis that could be narrated as having happened at a specific time and place, may have defined the new scientific mentality, as Peter Dear has persuasively shown,116 but the history of past missteps and false assumptions nonetheless lost credibility.

Fourth and finally, the bodily learning based on the senses that Montaigne had championed as the fallible yet necessary ground of experience was now increasingly replaced by "objective" instruments whose registering of stimuli from the external world were purportedly more accurate and disinterested. What has been called "the testimony of nonhumans"117 now replaced that of flesh-and-blood witnesses, whose mortality was irrelevant, in the laboratories of modern science. These instruments did not, to be sure, automatically bring the certainty they were designed to provide. "The view through Galileo's telescope," Agamben has gone so far as to claim, "produced not certainty and faith in experience but Descartes's doubt, and his famous hypothesis of a demon whose only occupation is to deceive our senses." But paradoxically, the antidote was then assumed to be ever more precise and impartial prosthetic devices. "The scientific verification of experience which is enacted in the experiment . . . responds to this loss of certainty by displacing experience as far as possible outside the individual: on to instruments and numbers."118 The introspective reflexivity that defined Montaigne's version of experience was now repressed or bracketed. The objects of scientific inquiry—whether "revealed" by new technical means or "constructed" by new theories—grew ever more distant from the familiar world of everyday life.

Insofar as the most innovative instruments of the era—the telescope and the microscope—extended the range and acuity of one sense in particular, scientific experience tended to privilege the visual, with its capacity to produce knowledge at a distance, over the other senses.119 Even when Bacon castigated normal vision for staying on the surface of things and failing to pay attention to the invisible world beneath, he hoped that ultimately its secrets would be "brought to light."120 Paracelsus's metaphor of "overhearing" nature's secrets was laid to rest.121 Abetted by innovations in the perspectivalist depiction of space on Renaissance canvases, which seemed to be in tune with the rationalized universe assumed by the new science, the hegemony of the eye meant not only the denigration of the other senses, but also the detextualization of experience in general. A few unheralded figures aside—the Portuguese philosopher John Poinsot (1589-1644) has been recently raised from obscurity to play the role of rule-proving exception122—modern thinkers tended to suppress the semiotic and cultural mediation of experience and seek to ground it firmly in pure, primarily visual, observation and controlled experimentation.

It has often been remarked since at least the time of Max Weber that modernity has meant a differentiation of increasingly specialized value spheres. Cognitive, moral, and aesthetic institutions and discourses have gained relative autonomy and generated their own immanent logic of development. Indeed, within them, specialization produced a welter of distinct sub-spheres and isolated disciplines without easy commensurability. The whole, however it may be defined, ceased to hang together in a coherent way. No longer understood in terms of a great chain of being, a multiplicity of resonating similitudes, or a cosmopolis in which the cosmos and the polis are in tune with each other, the modern world struggled to come to terms with what Friedrich von Schiller, in the phrase made famous by Weber, called its "disenchantment." What Bruno Latour has identified as the modern disaggregation of hybrids into their component parts—subject and object, culture (or society) and nature, mind and matter—has meant a penchant for purification and boundary creation.123 Even if one avoids nostalgia for a supposed era before the fall into "diremption," "alienation," or "fragmentation," it does seem clear that modernity was accompanied by an increasing specialization of function and the loss of a more integrated sense of life.

A comparable process can be discerned in the explicit differentiation of the holistic experience Montaigne sought to unify into several discrete subvariants. The scientific version, based on a transcendental, disembodied, immortal species subject located more in impartial instruments than fallible bodies, activated the etymological link we have seen between experience and experiment, while suppressing the value of accumulated wisdom from the past. But rather than quelling doubts, it only created new ones for students of epistemology, the investigation of the subject and conditions of knowledge that emerged in the wake of rational metaphysics' decline in the eighteenth century. What has been recently been called "Descartes' Problem" had two dimensions.124 The first entailed the split or at least unexplained link between everyday sense experience and the mechanical and mathematical workings of the world that were now assumed to produce that experience. What was the relationship, philosophers and scientists increasingly wondered, between hidden depths of reality (called the "occult" by the Scholastics) and its observed surface phenomena?125 The second dimension of the problem involved the relationship between sense experiences and the propositional thoughts or linguistic representations that were fashioned from them.

In the next chapter, we will trace the central debates that arose among theorists who sought to explicate the role of something called "experience" in cognition, beginning with John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. In chapter 3 we will focus attention on the ways in which experience was explored in the moral realm, or more precisely, in that of religion, where, as we have already noted, the valorization of everyday life and mysticism had staked their claims during an earlier era. We will pass on, in chapter 4, to the specific claims of experience in the newly developed discourse about art, which came into its own only in the eighteenth century. The possibility of something called "aesthetic experience" as separate from works of art per se and from other types of experience, cognitive or moral, will be at issue. Chapter 5 will explore the appeal to experience in political terms, noting its capacity to be mobilized by champions of both conservative and radical thought. Chapter 6 will deal with the attempts made by historians and philosophers of history to understand the role of experience as an object of historical inquiry and as something produced by that inquiry in the present. Then in the second half of our narrative, we will turn to the attempts made by a wide range of thinkers in the last century to heal what they lamented as the ruptures of experience and generate or recover a more holistic alternative, restoring—at least to a certain extent—the views of Montaigne. Showing how that alternative was premised on a radical critique of the Cartesian subject of modernity, producing a seemingly paradoxical "experience without a subject," will be the task of our final chapters.


1. Michael Oakeshott, Experience and Its Modes (Cambridge, 1933), p. 9.

2. Ibid.

3. Derek Attridge, "Language as History/History as Language: Saussure and the Romance of Etymology," in Derek Attridge, Geoff Bennington, and Robert Young, eds., Post-structuralism and the Question of History (Cambridge, 1987), p. 202.

4. The following is based on the Oxford English Dictionary; the entries for "experience" and "empirical" in Raymond Williams, Keywords, rev. ed (Oxford, 1983); F.E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon (New York, 1967); and the entry "Erfahrung" in the Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie.

5. Gerhard Schulze, Die Erlebnisgesellschaft: Kultursoziologie der Gegenwart (Frankfurt, 1992).

6. For a psychological attempt to distinguish between "experiencing" and "experience," see Eugene T. Gendlin, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning: A Philosophical and Psychological Approach to the Subjective (New York, 1962).

7. John Deely, New Beginnings: Early Modern Philosophy and Postmodern Thought (Toronto, 1994), p. 17.

8. For Dewey's discussion of the classical notion of experience, see especially his Reconstruction in Philosophy (New York, 1920), chapter 4; and "An Empirical Survey of Empiricisms," in The Later Works, 1925-1953, vol. 2, 1935-37, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale, Ill., 1987), first published in 1935. See also his remarks in Experience and Nature (La Salle, Ill., 1987), chapter 9, first published in 1925.

9. Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, p. 92.

10. Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, 1.31: "One necessarily perceives an individual and at a time and at a place, and it is impossible to perceive what is universal and holds in every case."

11. Dewey, "An Empirical Survey of Empiricisms," pp. 74-75.

12. An early argument implicitly against Dewey can be found in John Burnet, "Experiment and Observation in Greek Science," in Essays and Addresses (Freeport, N.Y., 1930). Since that time a spirited debate had been conducted over the extent and role of empirical observation in Greek science, which involved, among others, Francis Cornford, Karl Popper, G.S. Kirk, and Gregory Vlastos. For the state of the question today and a summary of the debates, see G.E.R. Lloyd, Magic, Reason and Experience: Studies in the Origin and Development of Greek Science (Cambridge, 1979); The Revolutions of Wisdom: Studies in the Claims and Practice of Ancient Greek Science (Berkeley, 1987); and Methods and Problems in Greek Science (Cambridge, 1991). Lloyd shows that it is necessary to examine specific fields of inquiry and different periods before making grand generalizations about Greek scientific practices.

13. Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, trans. and ed. Peter Urbach and John Gibson (Chicago, 1994), pp. 80-87.

14. See the discussion in Franz Boll, "Vita Contemplativa," Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften (Heidelberg, 1920).

15. See, for example, Euripides' Antiope or Aristophanes' Clouds.

16. The most celebrated and influential argument for this claim is Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago, 1958).

17. David Couzens Hoy, The Critical Circle: Literature and History in Contemporary Hermeneutics (Berkeley, 1978), p. 58.

18. John J. McDermott, The Culture of Experience: Philosophical Essays in the American Grain (New York, 1976), p. 8.

19. Aristotle, Ethics, 1143b, 10-15.

20. In the Posterior Analytics, Aristotle wrote, "sense perception gives rise to memory, as we call it; and repeated memories of the same give rise to experience [empeiria]; because memories though numerically many, are a single experience. And from experience, that is from the whole universal that has come to rest in the soul, there comes a principle of art [techne] or of science [episteme]—of art if it concerns producing, of science if it concerns what is" (99b38-100a9). For a discussion of the significance of this passage, see Patrick H. Byrne, Analysis and Science in Aristotle (Albany, N.Y., 1997), pp. 173-76. Byrne notes that for Aristotle, experience means a "developed habit in the human soul that makes a person capable of good judgment in an area of familiarity, i.e., where one has sufficiently developed memories" (p. 175). But he then goes on to point out that it was still inferior to the kind of analysis that led to an explanation for the connections observed by experience.

21. For a recent appreciation of Diogenes and what he calls the "kynical" tradition, see Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason, trans. Michael Elred (Minneapolis, 1987).

22. Quoted in Mario Untersteiner, The Sophists, trans. Kathleen Freeman (Oxford, 1954), p. 42.

23. For a discussion of these debates, see ibid.

24. Eric Havelock was the first to link the Platonic stress on eternal, ideal truths, and the fixity of writing as opposed to the transience of oral performance. See his Preface to Plato (Cambridge, Mass., 1963).

25. Ernst Cassirer, The Platonic Renaissance in England, trans. James P. Pettegrove (New York, 1970).

26. For a discussion of Schleiermacher's debts to Plato, see Albert L. Blackwell, Schleiermacher's Early Philosophy of Life: Determinism, Freedom, and Phantasy (Chico, Calif. 1982), part 2, chapter 2. We will see a similar enthusiasm in the work of Rudolf Otto, discussed in chapter 3.

27. Klaus Herding, "Diogenes als Bürgerheld," in Im Zeichen der Aufklärung: Studien zur Moderne (Frankfurt, 1989).

28. See, for example, John of Salisbury, The Metalogican, trans. Daniel D. McGarry (Berkeley, 1962), p. 223. Some have argued that such expressions of faith in the senses meant that medieval science was prevented from using experiments to arrive at counterintuitive knowledge by its reliance on naive experience. See, for example, Anneliese Maier, Metaphysische Hintergründe der spätscholastischen Philosophie (Rome, 1955), p. 405. But it is not clear that commonsense experience could triumph over doctrinal authority.

29. Robert Grosseteste, for example, rebuked those who would rely on experiments without a firm foundation in doctrine. See the discussion in Bruce S. Eastwood, "Medieval Empiricism: The Case of Grosseteste's Optics," Speculum 43 (1968), pp. 306-21.

30. For a discussion of Roger Bacon and experience, see E.J. Dijksterhuis, The Mechanization of the World Picture, trans. C. Dikshoorn (London, 1969), pp. 135-41.

31. See Charles B. Schmitt, "Experience and Experiment: A Comparison of Zabarella's View with Galileo's in De Motu," Studies in the Renaissance 16 (1969). This excellent essay traces the transition from the still Aristotelian science of Jacopo Zabarella (1533-1589) to that of the young Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Whereas the former did value something called "experience" and was in this sense a proto-empiricist, he did not yet use experimenta to test hypotheses or actively intervene to wrest nature's secrets from her. The latter, however, advocated what he called a periculum precisely for that end in his early work De Motu (1589-1592), even though he still used the word experimenta in its more passive sense of mere observation and privileged mathematics over both. After he moved to Padua, Schmitt argues, Galileo developed a method that was closer to the one championed by Bacon.

32. Williams provides an example from 1621 in Keywords, p. 99.

33. Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge, Mass., 1989), p. 131.

34. Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, trans. Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), p. 287.

35. On the Franciscans, see Malcolm D. Lambert, Franciscan Poverty (London, 1961). Before this era, the impersonal Lordship of Jesus was generally emphasized over His Sacred Humanity and His own experience as a vulnerable, suffering individual was not yet fully appreciated. For a discussion that compares the early Christian mystics with those of the later Middle Ages according to the relative presence of the suffering Christ in their experiences, see Jess Byron Hollenback, Mysticism: Experience, Response, and Empowerment (University Park, Pa., 1996), pp. 86-87.

36. Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, part 3. The link between curiosity and a certain notion of experience is evident in the cult of experience for its own sake, evident in such works as Goethe's Faust.

37. Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, trans. Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, Mass., 1987), p. 7 (emphasis in original).

38. Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, trans. Keith Tribe (Cambridge, Mass., 1985), p. 276.

39. See Benjamin's 1913 essay "Experience," written when he was in the Youth Movement and hostile to the claims made by adults to superior wisdom, in Selected Writings, vol. 1, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, Mass., 1996). In Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Habermas contrasts the later Benjamin with Koselleck by noting that "Benjamin proposes a drastic reversal of horizon of expectation and space of experience. To all past epochs he ascribes a horizon of unfulfilled expectations, to the future-oriented present he assigns the task of experiencing a corresponding past through remembering, in such a way that we can fulfill its expectations with our weak messianic power" (p. 14) (emphasis in original).

40. Taylor, Sources of the Self, p. 14.

41. These remarks from Luther's Table Talk are quoted in B.A. Gerrish, Continuing the Reformation: Essays on Modern Religious Thought (Chicago, 1993), p. 186. Gerrish contends that "by focusing theological interest on what it means to live by faith, Luther created a theology of experience that foreshadowed the modern view of theology as an anthropocentric study of a theocentric phenomenon" (p. 56).

42. Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Der Deutsche Socrates (Leipzig, 1732), p. 289, reprinted in Pietists: Selected Writings, ed. Peter C. Erb (New York, 1983), p. 291.

43. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, quoted in Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York, 1974), p. 4.

44. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. 8.

45. According to Michel de Certeau, "during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the mystics were for the most part from regions or social categories which were in socio-economic recession, disadvantaged by change, marginalized by progress, or destroyed by war." Heterologies: Discourse on the Other, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, 1986), p. 84. Mysticism was, however, perhaps at its height during the fourteenth century, a period of considerable turmoil within the church. According to Evelyn Underhill, mysticism usually flourishes directly after a period of intellectual and aesthetic creativity, such as the era of High Gothic or the Renaissance. See her Mysticism (New York, 1961), p. 453.

46. Hollenbeck, Mysticism, chapter 5.

47. Quoted from a manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale in de Certeau, Heterologies, p. 93.

48. On Blake's place in the mystical tradition and his attempt to democratize it, see Underhill, Mysticism, p. 235.

49. Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, trans. S.G.C. Middlemore and Irene Gordon (New York, 1960), p. 121.

50. For helpful introductions, see Peter Burke, Montaigne (Oxford, 1981); and Arne Melberg, Versuch über Montaigne, trans. Lothar Schneider (Egginen, 2003).

51. Montaigne, "Of Experience," in The Complete Essays of Montaigne, trans. Donald Frame (Stanford, 1965), p. 857.

52. Mavì de Fillipis, "L'esperienza secondo Montaigne," La Cultura18, no. 1 (1980), p. 106.

53. For an analysis of Montaigne's texts as an attempt to speak once again to his late friend Étienne de la Boétie, see de Certeau, "Montaigne's 'Of Cannibals'," Heterologies. For the larger context in which the Essays were written, see Natalie Zemon Davis, "Boundaries and the Sense of Self in Sixteenth-Century France," in Thomas C. Heller, Morton Sosna, and David E. Wellbury, eds., Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought (Stanford, 1986).

54. Montaigne, "Of Experience," Complete Essays, p. 882.

55. Montaigne, "Of the Education of Children," Complete Essays, p. 124.

56. Montaigne, "Of Repentence," Complete Essays, p. 611.

57. See Richard Regosin, "The Text of Memory: Experience as Narration in Montaigne's Essais," in John D. Lyons and Nancy J. Vickers, eds., The Dialectic of Discovery (Lexington, Ky., 1984), for a discussion of the role of imperfect, weak memory in Montaigne. Memory's imperfection serves to free us from obedience to the authorities of the past, but it is not so faulty as to prevent it from contributing to a sense of narrative coherence over time for the self, especially when its active, reconstructive moment is foregrounded. The very writing of the Essays functions in this way for Montaigne himself: "On a personal level, the essays allow his experience to be more than a mere succession of discrete instants in a never-ending present. If the writer appears to exercise his judgment in the moments of actuality, his experience is also that of a life lived over time" (p. 147).

58. See, for example, F.J. Warnke, Versions of the Baroque (New Haven, 1972); and José Antonio Maravall, Culture of the Baroque: Analysis of a Historical Structure, trans. Terry Cochran (Minneapolis, 1986), chapter 7.

59. For an attempt to sort out the multiple meanings on the basis of a comparative analysis of usages in early modern France, see W.G. Moore, "Montaigne's Notion of Experience," in Will Moore, Rhoda Sutherland, and Enid Starkie, eds., The French Mind: Essays in Honor of Gustave Rudler (Oxford, 1952). Moore concludes that Montaigne uses the word more frequently in the sense of direct, personal knowledge opposed to speculation or imagination than in the sense of cumulative retrospective know-how or wisdom.

60. On the issue of exemplarity in Montaigne, see John D. Lyons, "Circe's Drink and Sorbonnic Wine: Montaigne's Paradox of Experience," in Alexander Gelley, ed., Unruly Examples: On the Rhetoricity of Exemplarity (Stanford, 1995).

61. For a discussion of this theme, see F. Joukovsky, Montaigne et le problème du temps (Paris, 1972).

62. Goethe, conversation with Johann Peter Eckermann on May 6, 1827, quoted in Conversations and Encounters, trans. and ed. David Luke and Robert Pick (Chicago, 1966), p. 160.

63. The similarity to Kant's argument for "reflective" (as opposed to "determinant") judgments of aesthetic objects in the Third Critique, which we will examine in chapter 4, is hard to miss. For other parallels, see Ernst Cassirer, Kant's Life and Thought, trans. James Haden (New Haven, 1981), p. 86.

64. Montaigne, "Of Experience," Complete Essays, p. 815.

65. For an account of the importance of the latter, which was less absolute than Pyrrhonism, see José R. Maia Neto, "Academic Skepticism in Early Modern Philosophy," Journal of History of Ideas 58, no. 2 (April 1997).

66. On Montaigne's importance for the Enlightenment, see Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, 2 vols., 1: The Rise of Modern Paganism (New York, 1968), pp. 287-90; and Ira O. Wade, The Intellectual Origins of the French Enlightenment (Princeton, 1971), pp. 84-107.

67. In "Apology for Raymond Sebond," Montaigne acknowledged that all we know comes through the senses, but in them "lies the greatest foundation and proof of our ignorance." Complete Essays, p. 443.

68. Ibid., p. 418.

69. For an account, see Richard H. Popkin, The History of Skepticism from Erasmus to Descartes (New York, 1964), chapter 3.

70. As Stephen Toulmin notes, "Humanist skeptics . . . no more wished to deny general philosophical theses than to assert them. Like the two classical philosophers to whom Montaigne compares himself, Pyrrho and Sextus, the humanists saw philosophical questions as reaching beyond the scope of experience in an indefensibile way." Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (Chicago, 1990), p. 29.

71. Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Montaigne; or, The Skeptic," Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston, 1960), p. 296.

72. Montaigne, "Of Experience," Complete Essays, p. 855.

73. Daniel Aris and François Joukovsky, "Une philosophie de l'expérience," Bulletin de la société des amis de Montaigne 21-22 (July-December 1990), p. 87.

74. Montaigne, "That to Philosophize Is to Learn to Die," Complete Essays, pp. 56-60.

75. Montaigne, "Of Practice," Complete Essays, p. 267.

76. Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History: Essays on the Destruction of Experience, trans. Liz Heron (New York, 1993), p. 19.

77. Regosin, "The Text of Memory," p. 157.

78. Hans Blumenberg, The Genesis of the Copernican World, trans. Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge, Mass., 1987), p. 629.

79. Montaigne, "Of Experience," Complete Essays, p. 821.

80. Robert Boyle, The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, ed. Thomas Birch, 6 vols. (London, 1672), vol. 5, p. 539, quoted in E.A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science (Garden City, N.Y., 1954), p. 171.

81. Funkenstein, Theology and the Scientific Imagination (Princeton, 1986), p. 298. Descartes' commitment to actual experimentation was somewhat less firm than Bacon's. For a discussion, see Bernard Williams, Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry (New York, 1978), chapter 9.

82. On this issue, see Paolo Rossi, "Truth and Utility in the Science of Francis Bacon," trans. Salvator Attanasio, in Benjamin Nelson, ed., Philosophy, Technology and the Arts in the Early Modern Era (New York, 1970). For a critique of the claim that Bacon was a proto-utilitarian in the strong sense, see Perez Zagorin, Francis Bacon (Princeton, 1998), p. 88.

83. For a comparison of the legacy of Montaigne with that of Bacon and Descartes, which bemoans the victory of the latter over the former, see Toulmin, Cosmopolis. For an earlier discussion of the relation between Bacon and Montaigne, see Pierre Villey, Montaigne et Francis Bacon (Paris, 1913).

84. The accompanying motto read "Multi pertransibunt et augibetur scientia" (many will pass through and knowledge will be increased).

85. For a discussion, see Antonio Pérez-Ramos, "Bacon's Forms and the Maker's Knowledge Tradition," in Markku Peltonen, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Bacon (Cambridge, 1996).

86. See, for example, Bacon's disparaging remarks on rhetorical method in Novum Organum, p. 96. For a discussion of the resistance of Bacon and Descartes to rhetoric, see Thomas M. Conley, Rhetoric in the European Tradition (Chicago, 1990), chapter 6. Bacon, to be sure, did not put demonstrative logic above induction as a source of new knowledge, as had previous critics of rhetoric. See the discussion in Lia Formigari, Language and Experience in 17th-Century British Philosophy (Amsterdam, 1988), chapter 1. For a recent attempt to argue that rhetoric was not always subordinated to dialectic in Bacon, see Brian Vickers, "Bacon and Rhetoric," in Peltonen, The Cambridge Companion to Bacon. But even Vickers concludes that Bacon hoped science would ultimately place us directly in connection with things without the intermediary of treacherous words. Bacon, to be sure, was critical of the self-enclosed Aristotelian logic of the Scholastics as a flawed tool of discovery about the world. For a discussion, see Zagorin, Francis Bacon, chapter 2.

87. On the struggle between notions of probability and certainty, see Paula R. Backscheider, ed., Probability, Time, and Space in Eighteenth-Century Literature (New York, 1979); and Barbara J. Shapiro, Probability and Certainty in Seventeenth-Century England (Princeton, 1983).

88. Toulmin, Cosmopolis, chapter 1.

89. Montaigne, Complete Essays, p. 429.

90. On the implications of the new astronomy for the depreciation of commonplace experience, see Blumenberg, The Genesis of the Copernican World, p. 62. Interestingly, Bacon himself expressed certain reservations about the telescope, although not about the Copernican revolution. In Novum Organum, he said he was disappointed that it had led to so few discoveries (p. 226).

91. Dewey, The Quest for Certainty (New York, 1960).

92. Instauratio, the Latin noun from which the word was taken, means restoration as well as renewal, but Bacon stressed the latter sense. See the discussion in Zagorin, Francis Bacon, p. 76.

93. Novum Organum, pp. 78-79.

94. Ibid., pp. 91-92.

95. See Lisa Jardine, "Experientia literata or Novum Organum? The Dilemma of Bacon's Scientific Method," in William A. Sessions, ed., Francis Bacon's Legacy of Texts (New York, 1990). Jardine notes the tension in Bacon's work between the more modest experientia literata model, which is closer to empiricism in the sense of Gassendi and Hume, and the novum organum model, which seeks firmer knowledge of essential forms.

96. For recent discussions of the growth of the concept of "fact" and its relationship to experience, see Mary Poovey, A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society (Chicago, 1998); and Barbara J. Shapiro, A Culture of Fact, 1550-1720 (Ithaca, N.Y., 2000).

97. Walter J. Ong, Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), chapter 11. See also Neal W. Gilbert, Renaissance Concepts of Method (New York, 1960); and Peter Dear, "Method in the Study of Nature," in Michael Ayers and Daniel Garger, eds., The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy (Cambridge, 1998).

98. Erich Auerbach provocatively argued that Montaigne himself should be included in this generalization: "Montaigne's apparently fanciful method, which obeys no preconceived plan, is basically a strictly experimental method, the only method which conforms to such a subject. . . . It is this strict and, even in the modern sense, scientific method which Montaigne endeavors to maintain." Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, 1953), p. 256. But whereas Montaigne's approach may have been suitable to the study of flux and ephemerality, that of the new science sought structural regularity and essential truth.

99. Peter Dear, Discipline and Experience: The Mathematical Way in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago, 1995), p. 121. Dear demonstrates the importance of the new respect for mathematics, especially among seventeenth-century Jesuit philosophers, in fostering a modern notion of experimental science.

100. D.M. Clarke has identified six distinct uses of expérience in Descartes: introspection, untutored test, sense of observation, objective phenomena, ordinary experience, and scientific experiment. See his Descartes' Philosophy of Science (Manchester, 1982), pp. 17-24. Cartesian doubt, it should also be noted, was not indiscriminately directed at all of our beliefs and habits. For example, those that provided religious experience were excluded. See the discussion in Nicholas Wolterstorff, John Locke and the Ethics of Belief (Cambridge, 1996), chapter 3.

101. It might be argued that Descartes thought innate ideas were themselves a variety of inner experience. In fact, in his 1628 Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Descartes identified experience with "what we perceive in sense, what we hear from the lips of others, and generally whatever reaches our understanding either from external sources or from that contemplation which our mind directs backwards on itself." The Philosophical Works of Descartes, trans. Elizabeth Haldane and G.R.T. Ross (Cambridge, 1968), pp. 43-44. But in most contexts, he reserved the word for what came through the senses. For an account of the relations between Bacon and the Cartesians, see Antonio Pérez-Ramos, "Bacon's Legacy," in Peltonen, The Cambridge Companion to Bacon, pp. 312-14.

102. Induction for Bacon did not mean simply gathering examples and generalizing from them, as is sometimes assumed; he understood the importance of hypotheses and the process of excluding unsatisfactory explanations. For a discussion, see Zagorin, Francis Bacon, pp. 91-103.

103. Montaigne, "Of Experience," in Complete Essays, p. 815.

104. Walter Pagel, Paracelsus (Basel, 1982), p. 50. The Paracelsian tradition did not retreat immediately. In fact, in England it enjoyed a revival in mid-century, at the time of the Puritan revolution. As Evelyn Fox Keller has noted, "the emphasis on illumination derived from direct experience (available to anyone who pursues the art) accorded well with the political and religious ambitions of the times." Reflections on Gender and Science (New Haven, 1985), pp. 45-46. By the 1670s, however, the Baconians had triumphed.

105. On the changed attitude toward anomalies, see Dear, Discipline and Experience, pp. 20-21.

106. See the discussion in his Meteorology (1637), in Discourse on Method, Optics, Geometry, and Meteorology, trans. Paul J. Olscamp (Indianapolis, 1965), p. 338.

107. Bacon, to be sure, did owe certain debts to earlier magical and occult attempts to master nature and penetrate its hidden secrets. See William Leiss, The Domination of Nature (New York, 1972). But the model of an open scientific society was not one of them.

108. For a comparison of Bacon and the philosophes on this and other points, see Wade, The Intellectual Origins of the French Revolution, pp. 118-26.

109. Timothy J. Reiss, The Discourse of Modernism (Ithaca, N.Y., 1982), chapter 6. Drawing on Foucault's argument about power and knowledge, Reiss detects a political dialectic at work in Bacon's method. "The concept of a general experience—universal and reasonable, as the grammarians will have it—is one that permits the elaboration and practice of the liberal state, founded upon a contract between equal individuals, each possessed of a similar will. Like Descartes, Bacon will have a powerful share in the creation of the 'discursive space' making possible such an idea of knowledge and social practice" (p. 206). But what is occulted from this model, he claims, is the fact that it is based on a discourse that refuses to reveal itself as such, a discourse which reflects power relations allowing only some people the right to be experimentally "literate."

110. Steven Shapin, "Pump and Circumstance: Robert Boyle's Literary Technology," Social Studies of Science 14 (1984), pp. 481-520; see also Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton, 1985); and Steven Shapin, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (Chicago, 1994).

111. Taylor, Sources of the Self, p. 162.

112. See, for example, Susan R. Bordo, The Flight to Objectivity: Essays on Cartesianism and Culture (Albany, N.Y., 1987); and Keller, Reflections on Gender and Science. For an attempted defense, see Zagorin, Francis Bacon, p. 122.

113. According to Blumenberg, Descartes and Bacon held out hope for a final state of perfect knowledge. Infinite striving for it becomes a theme only with Pascal. See The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, pp. 83-84.

114. Montaigne, "Of Experience," Complete Essays, p. 817.

115. Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York, 1986), p. 311.

116. Dear, Discipline and Experience, where he locates the change occurring in the 1670s with the work of Newton and Boyle. In contrast, the older notion of experience, based on Aristotelian and Scholastic rationalist universalism, understood it as "a statement of how things happen in nature, rather than a statement of how something had happened on a particular occasion" (p. 4 [emphasis in original]).

117. Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, Mass. 1991), p. 22.

118. Agamben, Infancy and History, p. 17. Bacon, to be sure, was not as keen on mathematicizing and geometrizing the world as Descartes, Galileo, and Newton, which has allowed some historians of science, such as Alexandre Koyré, to discount his importance for the scientific revolution. For an attempt to pluralize that revolution and allow Bacon a place in it by contextualizing him within the tradition of craftsmen who experimented with nature, see Thomas Kuhn, "Mathematical versus Experimental Traditions in the Development of the Physical Sciences," in The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change (Chicago, 1977).

119. I have tried to explore some of the ramifications of the ocularcentric bias of modernity in "Scopic Regimes of Modernity," in Force Fields: Between Intellectual History and Cultural Critique (New York, 1993); and Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley, 1993). For a recent caution against overestimating the importance of optical instruments for Bacon, see Catherine Wilson, The Invisible World: Early Modern Philosophy and the Invention of the Microscope (Princeton, 1995), p. 50.

120. Bacon, Novum Organum, p. 60 On Bacon's use of light as an image of truth and knowledge, see Zagorin, Francis Bacon, p. 88.

121. Pagel, Paracelsus, p. 50.

122. Deely, New Beginnings.

123. Latour, We Have Never Been Modern.

124. John T. Kearns, Reconsidering Experience: A Solution to the Problem Inherited from Descartes (Albany, N.Y., 1996).

125. See Keith Hutchison, "What Happened to Occult Qualities in the Scientific Revolution?" Isis 73 (1982), pp. 233-53. Ironically, these qualities became less occult as science seemed progressively to reveal nature's secrets, but returned when skeptics like Hume questioned the reliability of the results.

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