I recently finished reading what I feel is an important and well-written/well reasoned book from 1987, Nancy Frankenberry's Religion and Radical Empiricism.

A couple of quotes that really jumped out at me (esp. the bolded parts). I would enjoy hearing responses from others. 

“From the perspective of radical empiricism, the basic criticism of Kan’ts philosophy is that it neglected the role of what Whitehead calls “physical feelings,” which form the nonconceptual element in experience. Although radical empiricists can agree with Kant that “intuitions without concepts are blind,” they want to add, with Whitehead, that this is so for a different reason: there are objects for knowledge in every act of experience, but knowledge arises only when intellectual functioning is included in that act of experiencing, and such inclusion is not always the case. For Kant there was nothing to know apart from concepts, since it was intellectual functioning which introduced order into what was otherwise a mere spatio-temporal flux of sensations. Mental operations were the foundation rather than the culmination of experience in Kant’s system.

By contrast, radical empiricism involves an important inversion of Kant’s philosophy…For Kant, the world emerged from the subject; for radical empiricism, the subject emerges from the world.”

-          P. 172, Nancy Frankenberry, Religion and Radical Empiricism

For context, read more excerpts at Google Books here

Here's an example of a "radical empiricist" displaying the above positition.  Bernard Meland, from his last book Fallible Forms & Symbols (1976):

“Much of the meaning we appear to find in life, we bring to it, as Kant observed, through our own forms of sensibility and understanding. But, as James and Bergson were later to remark, countering the stance of Kant and Hume in one basic respect, the nexus of relationships that forms our existence is not projected, it is given. We do not create these relationships; we experience them, being given with existence…thus I am led empirically to speak of God as the Ultimate Efficacy within relationships.”

-          Bernard Meland, quoted by Frankenberry, p. 134

For context, read more excerpts at Google Books here

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Hi David, to me, those two bolded sentences seem to offer a little charity to the idea of ___. They seem, to me, to point to what might be called kosmo-centricity, rather than what might be called, self-centricity. I think, too, maybe this is what Layman is alluding to with his definition of causal? How do you think this challenges or relates to , 'the myth of the given'? And what does this say about  representationalism?

Broadly speaking this simply reminds us why there is a tetra-enaction principle in metatheory.  Because theories of causality can arise from the subject, the community, the objective environment or the logic of systems. 

However what catches the eye is the question of the relationship of causal elements to gross elements.  That relationship is captured in the following question:

Do logical necessities, being (phenomenologically) eternal, transparent, massless, dimensionless and nonlocal, emerge as the interpretive mental summary of our experiences?  Or do the objects of experience themselves depend upon the enabling power of the scaffolding-code of reality?  

And the answer, of course, is YES.

Causal objects are not reducible to contingent events since those who think about such events necessarily act if situations already had a minimal logical structure.  But that structure do not enter the world at a hypothetical past moment (as the "creator") but rather is always entering the world in the present moment at the leading edge of unfolding experiences reflecting back upon themselves in all four quadrants.


Yes, that is an important question - how does this relate to the myth of the given?

Frankenberry acknowledges, "The notion of empiricism as involving a simple or direct consultation of what is "given" in experience has been subject to heavy criticism in this century, along with the philosophical motivation in making any appeal to "foundational" knowledge. Appeals to immediate experience, however the word is defined, are almost universally suspect on the grounds that they lead to unwelcome and exasperating claims to privileged access or self-confirming suppositions." (p.31)

The heyday of these philosophers occurred before the post-modern turn, but they actually anticipated much of it. From chapter 3 (p. 83):

When contemporary philosophers argue that the false hope of a firm foundation is gone, that the world is displaced by worlds that are but versions, that substance is dissolved into function, and the given must be acknowledged as taken [Nelson Goodman reference], they are echoing themes already present in the work of the classical American pragmatic-empiricists Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. In this sense, Richard Rorty may be right to say that "James and Dewey were not only waiting at the end of the dialectical road which analytic philosophy traveled, but are waiting at the end of the road which, for example, Foucault and Deleuze are currently traveling." At the same time, however, the authors of the Golden Age of American philosophy did not hesitate to offer fresh theories of experience. In that sense they took the road now less traveled by recent analytic philosophers - and that has made all the difference.

The difference shows itself principlally in the fact that Peirce, James, and Dewey evinced much more of a theoretical interest in the role of experience, broadly conceived, in knowledge, including religious knowledge...What distinguishes Peirce, James, and Dewey most strikingly from  more recent American philosophers is the prominent attention they gave to the role of the aesthetic or qualitative dimension of experience.

Note the nuances in the quotes from the first post. They are not saying that what we interpret from our experience can be taken as given. As Hakim Bey has said, "All experience is mediated-by the mechanisms of sense perception, mentation, language, etc." There is definitely an important role that we play as we interact with the flux of relationships that occur in experience - but yes, it seems to be the argument, that we are in a co-creative relationship with our experience, and foundational is that flux of relationships that occur in our experience (the given). 

Frankeberry writes,

"...radical empiricists will note that a subtle and important methodological difference exists between "understanding seeking exemplification in experience" and "experience seeking understanding." To emphasize the former, as Hartshorne does, is to lock into a logical system that invariably fails to fulfill the radically empirical ideal of adequacy to experience. To emphasize the second, as radical empiricism does, is to arrive at ideas of what is universal and necessary, if at all, only by way of tentative descriptive generalization from what is contingent and particular. (p. 23)

The "classical pragmatic empiricists" were, at least some of them, post-relativistic -- exploring tracks into the vision-logic worldspace.  And yet, in order to bring new civilization into being, subsequent thinkers must still go slowly, feeling out and expanding each band of reality.  They must go at their own pace.  But when they "go on" they will discover that notion of all experience being mediated is actually an incomplete way to say that basic types of experience are perpetually present and provide the entangled contexts for each other.  The are co-mediated.  Or rather the "appearance of meditation" is a factor which initially breaks the world into a diversity but also provides the mechanism by which it can be stabilized... using the "adjacency" between one type of experience and another. 

Layman, yes, right on. I assume you meant "appearance of mediation" rather than "appearance of meditation," though that might be appropriate as well.

"The feeling body and even the thinking mind have as their nature waveforms that are impermanent. They are activities, and that is one of the most important insights that a person can get. That insight comes through concentration, but when that insight becomes very clear a new state of consciousness  arises and goes beyond concentration, because one has had insight into the fundamental nature of experience, which is that experience is an interactive wave that contains the entire universe."

- Shinzen Young, The Science of Enlightenment

Yeah... although I usually think "mediation" is a nicer looking, more compact word than "meditation".  Who needs that extra T?  Perhaps we should switch their meanings...

As an aside, the new American cognitive pragmatists (cogscipragos) like Lakoff, Johnson, Varela, Thompson etc. see themselves in a direct lineage from Dewey, James, Peirce and Mead. Another example outside America is Habermas, who devotes a chapter to Mead in Postmetaphysical Thinking, the latter influencing Habbie's entire project of communicative action.

It seems it would look like this on a linear scale: panpsychism-radical empiricism-emergentism. The left being earlier modes of thought up to the present. I guess around this neck of the woods we can add pan-interiorism. 

Perhaps Bernard Meland's most famous quote, from Fallible Forms & Symbols: "We live more deeply than we can think."

This stark contrast between the language we use in attending the religious realities, of whatever faith, and the realities themselves should not strike us as strange. Simple acknowledgment of the fallibility of our human forms and symbols should offer precedent enough for insisting that every creature, however elevated or humble, however committed in . . . heart and mind to the truth of the faith, stands under the judgment of reality as lived, of reality as encountered in experience. With the use of language, [we] may appropriately grope toward understanding and toward some degree of intelligibility in responding to what meets us in the lived experiences. But, since we live more deeply than we can think, no formulation of truth out of the language we use can be adequate for expressing what is really real, fully available, fully experienced, within this mystery of existing, in the mystery of dying, or in whatever surpasses these creatural occurrences of such urgent moment to each of us.

I am inevitably half-sympathetic to such articulations.  

The problem is that our thinking cannot perfectly evaluate itself.  It has no more right to assert its limitations than to assert its supremacy.  A thinking being, using language to express a thought, is on very shaky ground when that thought is... that thought cannot encompass reality.  

Can thinking distinguish between "reality" and "thinking of reality" when it tries to think-say that these two dimensions are distinct?  

Obviously, in our daily experience, we see this yawning gap between most thought and the complex, unpredictable and endlessly "extra" mystery of being.  Yet is this truly the boundary of thought or simply the gap which we think exists between two types of thought?  And in saying "thought is not enough" have we not taken already a great deal of the beyond-thought and adequately expressed it as thought?  And do we even know what thinking IS?  

We have not traversed all its pathways such that we stand triumphantly and declare by experience that thought is always less than our lived reality.  We have no such proof.  Those who want to validate experience and insights and esoteric practices beyond ordinary thinking should also be very humble...

Yes, and now you are, I think, articulating some of the concerns Wieman had about this direction Meland took; yet Wieman's focus primarily on what can be thought and articulated also seems to be limited. 

Where I'm at at this moment is that we could give continued attention to the attempts to articulate and language what seems to be that "more" beyond thinking.  As we can name and further refine distinctions/dharmas/patterns, then we can more easily see them, and hence they become more real and tangible to us.

As that occurs, we then possibly can take another step with the "more" that exists beyond that, and then eventually perhaps find an articulation for this new experience, and continue this pattern to ever further refinements and distinctions. This is part of what I see you doing so often Layman - always carefully distinguishing different terms and different experiences from one another, which I assume is to move us further in this direction of further enlightenment.

One example might be the use of AQAL - the map of the prison.  Many will rightly point out that these are artificial boundaries; however, I think many of us will admit that a whole new world of distinctions was made possible when we started employing the AQAL map.  Some of us later loosened our grip on this map - the trick is to use it where and when it's useful, but not to let it get reified as some absolute truth, but rather to allow ourselves to continue to explore the deeper territory that it opens us up to, and to realize, for example, that quadrants don't actually exist in the clearly dilineated way that it looks like on paper. 


Thank you for laying out the lineage to the cognitive pragmatists. I believe the radical empiricist line goes in a bit of a different trajectory, even though the streams are related, and both began with Peirce, James, and Dewey.


I'm not sure if it is as linear as the outline you provided. Frankenberry traces empiricism from Hume, Locke, etc. and then lays out the distinct difference of radical empiricism from the "Golden Age of American philosophers Peirce, James, and Dewey. James and Peirce have both been identified with pansychism views, but Tim Winton used Peirce to argue for a pansemiotics approach. These three were an influence on Whitehead, who is regarded perhaps as the 20th century champion of panpsychism.

The Frankenberry book goes from James and Dewey next to the "Chicago School" of the philosophers of religion Henry Nelson Wieman, Bernard Meland, and Benjamin Loomer.  Wieman was originally brought to the University of Chicago because as the premier interpreter of Whitehead at the time, he was able to explain Whitehead to them (see the Wikipedia entry about this). Wieman later moved away from a Whiteheadian point of view. Wieman's student Meland, was closer in thought to Whitehead, and Loomer closer still.  It was Loomer whom Hartshorne credited with naming "Process philosophy."  But late in his career, Loomer moved somewhat away from Process thought, and renamed his approach "Process-relational" philosophy.

In the last chapter of the book, Frankenberry brings aspects of Whitehead back in, emphasizing aspects of his thought that are sometimes ignored, to provide a "fully explicit metaphysical level the theory of experience presupposed by James" and correlates it with the empirical theory found in Abhidharma Buddhism.

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