The Concept of Experience in Husserl's Phenomenology and James' Radical Empiricism

Pragmatism Today 9 (2):33-42 (2018)
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In this paper, I develop a comparison between the philosophies of Husserl and James in relation to their concepts of experience. Whereas various authors have acknowledged the affinity between James’ early psychology and Husserl’s phenomenology, the late development of James’ philosophy is often considered in opposition to Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. This is because James’ radical empiricism achieves a non-dual dimension of experience that precedes the functional division into subject and object, thus contrasting with the phenomenological analysis of the dual structure of intentionality. However, I argue that the later “genetic” development of phenomenology converges with some central aspects of James’ radical empiricism. This is because genetic phenomenology leads us to conceive of the flow of primal impressions as a fundamental dimension of experience that precedes the subject-object duality and is at the base of the process of co-constitution of the subject and the object in reciprocal dependence. At the same time, Husserl conceives of the impressional core of experience as structured by formal conditions that depend on the concrete constitution of an embodied subject. For this reason, I argue that Husserl’s genetic phenomenology can complement James’ radical empiricism, thus leading to the development of the doctrine of pure experience as a form of empirical and not metaphysical realism.
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