In his publications, Wolfgang Leidhold has focused on the concept and history of experience since the late ’80s. His interest in this subject began with his dissertation. Over the years, the historical approach to ideas, which was initially restricted to individual cases, has developed into the current interdisciplinary project of The History of Experience which traces the change of experiential structures from the Paleolithic to the present day.
Experience and Ethics in Francis Hutcheson (1982, 2004)
Wolfgang Leidhold began to explore the concept of experience when working his thesis on Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746). The Scottish philosopher wanted to give ethics a foundation in experience, but he was convinced that all previous attempts by empiricists such as John Locke had failed. After all, he considered the classical empiricist formula unsuitable. That formula, popular since the time of Aristotle, stated: From the senses comes memory, and from many memories arises one experience. Locke argued that all sensory perceptions are associated with pleasure and pain, thus our moral ideas derive from this origin. Yet Hutcheson was convinced that moral ideas could not arise from sensory perception, and therefore he advocated a multidimensional concept of experience.
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The Pacific Islands Region (1991)
After his dissertation, Wolfgang Leidhold remained true to the subject of experience, switching, however, from the history of ideas to international relations, focusing on security policy, and choosing an area with parties living in very different situations: the Pacific islands and the Pacific Rim powers. How did the actors get in touch with political reality? How did they direct their actions? How did both sides interact? Studying the experiential side reconfirmed the presumption derived from studying Hutcheson and the history of ideas: Political reality does not simply adhere to the empirical formula, but rather emerges from a variety of experiential dimensions that include our imagination, spiritual experience, fantasy, reflection, and interpretation. Result: a multi-dimensional concept of experience is also indispensable in the field of practical politics.
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Political Philosophy and the Nature of Experience (2002)
Through his works on Hutcheson and the South Pacific, Leidhold came to the conclusion that we have to start with a multidimensional structure of experience if we want to understand the way people get in touch with reality. However, this type of a multidimensional approach to experience did not exist. This issue must be addressed first. Thus, exploring the nature of experience was the main theme of Wolfgang Leidhold’s book on Political Philosophy.
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The Logic of Religious Experience (2008)
In his next book, The Logic of Religious Experience, Leidhold focuses on spiritual experience, first systematically analyzing it and then looking at it from an intercultural and historical perspective. By applying his theory of experience to religion and its spiritual foundations, Leidhold shows how spiritual experience has evolved in the course of history and throughout an array of Eastern and Western cultures. This examination reveals that the way people get in touch with the numinous, i.e. the structure of spiritual experience, has changed several times, and that the elements of its structure were only gradually brought to light.