The Necessity of Experience

Edward S. Reed

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Primary experience, gained through the senses, is our most basic way of understanding reality and learning for ourselves. Our culture, however, favors the indirect knowledge gained from secondary experience, in which information is selected, modified, packaged, and presented to us by others. In this controversial book, Edward S. Reed warns that secondhand experience has become so dominant in our technological workplaces, schools, and even homes that primary experience is endangered. Reed calls for a better balance between firsthand and secondhand experience, particularly in our social institutions. He contends that without opportunities to learn directly, we become less likely to think and feel for ourselves.

Since the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, Western epistemological tradition has rejected primary experience in favor of the abstractions of secondhand experience. Building on James Gibson's concept of ecological psychology, Reed offers a spirited defense of the reality and significance of ordinary experience against both modernist and postmodernist critics. He expands on the radical critiques of work, education, and art begun by William Morris and John Dewey, offering an alternative vision of meaningful learning that places greater emphasis on unmediated experience, and he outlines the psychological, cultural, and intellectual conditions that will be needed to foster that crucial change.

Edward S. Reed is associate professor of psychology at Franklin and Marshall College, editor of The Genetic Epistemologist, and associate editor of Ecological Psychology. He is also the author of James J. Gibson and the Psychology of Perception, published by Yale University Press.  Reed has also been an NEH Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Mary Switzer Fellow (awarded by National Institute for Research on Disability).

"Reed sets about the task of overturning three hundred years' tradition of inquiry and creates a book that is beautifully written, uncluttered, and precise. To read this work is a professional and personal joy."—William Kessen, Yale University

"I believe. . . the text would be especially welcomed within university education departments where substantial philosophical support is needed to sustain the movement toward adopting more innovative, practical, and relevant approaches to pedagogy."—Stephen Pattee, Bridges

"Reed's slim, readable volume presents a strong argument for the primacy of direct, firsthand experience."—Choice

"Reed indicts much of modern thought for ignoring everyday experience. . . . This excellent book is highly recommended."—Library Journal

ISBN: 9780300105667
Publication Date: August 11, 1996
200 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
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The Emergence of Psychology, from Erasmus Darwin to William James

Edward S. Reed

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