The Nature of Experience

Living and Thinking Reality in Its Integrity: Originary Experience, God, and the Task of Education

David L. Schindler

"Originary experience embeds a desire of man to say forever: to give the whole of himself irrevocably to the whole of God, in a way that involves the whole of creation."

Genuine thinking in today’s culture occurs mostly per accidens. Contemporary thought, for example, theology, is often criticized for its uncritical appeal to experience. But this criticism is misguided insofar as it implies that thought today roots itself too deeply in experience. The problem, rather, is that contemporary thought presupposes too little experience: it is forgetful of experience in its original, or most basic and catholic meaning, and needs to be criticized above all for just this forgetfulness.

My purpose is to discuss what is meant by original, or “originary,” experience and how it is bound up with thinking and living reality in its integrity, with a word about what this implies for education. The task is a daunting one. For originary experience, rightly understood, must be seen as open from its roots to the whole of reality, in terms not merely of the sum of things in their singularity, but also of the integrated relation among things that establishes them as an ordered whole and hence as a cosmos. Any essential aspect of experience that is ignored or left unaccounted for at the outset cannot simply be added later without risk of diminishing reality. Such ignorance or omission, in other words, disposes us toward, even as it presupposes, what is already a fragmented and reductive sense of reality, at once as a whole and in each of its “parts.”

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