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Experience of the world and the world of experience: towards an ontological empiricism


That empiricism takes experience as the first term of its analysis is not, by itself, problematic. However, as soon as empiricism specifies experience by overlooking the very fact of the belongingness of the subject of experience to experience itself, it faces a philosophical impasse in the sense that empiricism then adopts a positivist attitude. This approach distorts the very being of experience by structuring it through the alternative of natura naturata and natura naturans. Consequently, the world of experience is reduced to a spatio-temporal totality and subjectivity to a region of that world. It follows that the relational mode of experience, since experience necessarily is experience of, cannot be led “to the pure expression of its own meaning.”

I would argue that experience qua experience is experience of, that is, experience presents itself as a relational mode and involves its constitutive dimensions in its very appearing. Experience indistinctly refers to itself as referring to its proper dimensions, that is, its subjective and worldly poles. To put it otherwise, experience manifests itself as a co-manifestation. That is why experience effectively and unitarily accomplishes a relation of transcendence. Thus, experience appears as the displaying of interrelated existential planes which precisely define its very meaning. Owing to that interrelation, the philosophical crux then amounts to thematizing the nature of the internal relationship taking place at the level of experience.

It appears that the rendering of experience as a relation of transcendence is inherent in the fact that the subject of experience is itself a dimension of experience in such a way that the relation of transcendence is not reducible to a relation of the natural subject and the transcendental subject. Subsequently, that unitary phenomenon of belongingness, as inherent to experience itself, prevents all subjection of experience to a transcendental power of constitution. Understood structurally as bipolar, experience is not definable in terms of its elements, that is, there are no means to differentiate between a subjective plan and an objective plan. It follows that experience represents a set, a total configuration involving the who of experience and the world itself. Therefore, the order of experience is not locatable for it specifies itself as the very mode of the relational (du relationnel), which is why experience constitutes a mode of presence to. So, experience of is openness to. Essentially, experience relates to itself by being in the midst of a unitary world to which the subject of experience belongs, it is that of a worldly subject.

I aim at showing that experience is as such a relation of transcendence by describing the existential inherence of the subject of experience to the world. In other words, to approach experience in terms of the very condition of appearing. In this perspective, experience constitutes an ontological belongingness relative to the very phenomenality where the subject of experience is also the subject of appearing. Such an identity forbids regarding experience as that of a subject or a being, and, therefore, empiricism is only conceivable as rooting itself in the il y a.


Merleau-Ponty ; Phenomenology of Perception ; p.XVII; Translated by Colin Smith; Ed London and New York; 2004. Merleau-Ponty quotes a passage from Cartesian Meditations, p.33.



Jean-Michel Blanchet