Nishida Kitaro
& the Kyoto School of Philosophy

 
 
Pure Experience
To experience means to know facts just as they are, to know in accordance with facts by completely relinquishing one’s own fabrications. What we usually refer to as experience is adulterated with some sort of thought, so by pure I am referring to the state of experience just as it is without the least addition of deliberative discrimination. The moment of seeing a color or hearing a sound, for example, is prior not only to the thought that the color or sound is the activity of an external object or that one is sensing it, but also to the judgment of what the color or sound might be. In this regard pure experience is identical with direct experience. When one directly experiences one’s own state of consciousness, there is not yet a subject or an object, and knowing and its object are completely unified. This is the most refined type of experience. [An Inquiry into the Good, 3-4]
 
• Does “pure experience” really exist ... and if so, is it possible to experience pure experience?
• Assuming that it is possible to “directly experience one’s own state of consciousness” in such a way that “knowing and its object are completely unified,” why would this be “the most refined type of experience”?
The Unity of Consciousness
When a judgment has been gradually refined and its unity has become strict, the judgment assumes the form of a pure experience. For example, as one matures in an art, that which at first was conscious becomes unconscious. Taking this a step farther, we are led to the conclusion that pure experience and the meanings or judgments it generates manifest the two sides of consciousness: they are different facets of one and the same thing. In a certain respect, consciousness possesses unity; but at the same time there must be an aspect of development through differentiation. And as William James explains in his essay “The Stream of Thought,” consciousness is not stuck in its present, for it implicitly relates to other consciousnesses. The present can always be seen as part of a great system, and development through differentiation is the activity of a still greater unity. [An Inquiry into the Good, 10]
 
• What does “pure experience” have to do with art ... and what does any of this have to do with our actual experiences?
 

The Source of Consciousness
[P]ure experience does not indicate mere perceptual consciousness. There is a unity behind reflective consciousness as well. Reflective consciousness is established by that unity, and so it is a kind of pure experience, too. At the base of our consciousness there is always a unity of pure experience, and we cannot jump outside it. [An Inquiry into the Good, 164]
 
 
Contrary to what one might expect, thinking becomes conscious when its advance is hindered. That which advances thinking is not voluntary activity, for thinking develops on its own; only when we rid ourselves of the self and merge with the object of thought or the problem — when we lose ourselves in its midst — does the thinking activity [i.e. “pure thinking”] emerge. ... In the instant it shifts from one representation to the next, thinking, too, is unconscious, and as long as the unifying activity is actually functioning it must be unconscious. By the time we are conscious of this activity as an object, it already belongs to the past. The unifying activity of thinking is in this way completely outside the will. [An Inquiry into the Good, 13-4]
 
• Why must the “unifying activity of thinking” be “outside the will” ... and if it is, then who does the thinking?

• How does this relate to Wang Yangming’s conception of the “Unity of Knowledge and Action”?
 
  
The Source of Pure Experience
God can be seen as one great intellectual intuition at the foundation of the universe, as the unifier of pure experience that envelops the universe. ... At the base of this unity of consciousness we can make direct contact with the face of God. [An Inquiry into the Good, 164-5]