‘Experience is Our Great and Only Teacher’: A Peircean Reading of Wim Wenders'Wings of Desire

Journal of Philosophy of Education 48 (3):433-445 (2014)
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Wim Wenders' film Wings of Desire tells the story of an angel who wishes to become mortal in order to know the simple joy of human life. Told from the angel's point of view, the film is shot in black and white. But at the very instant the angel perceives the realities of human experience, the film blossoms into colour. In this article, I use this film to illustrate and explore Peirce's notion of experience and his claim that ‘experience is our great and only teacher’. In his 1903 Harvard lectures, Peirce placed phenomenology at the heart of his philosophy, while outlining a notion of ‘experience’ that clearly integrates his semiotics, phenomenology and pragmatism. To Peirce, experience is a ‘brutally produced conscious effect’ that comes ‘out of practice’ and is a ‘forcible modification of our ways of thinking’. But as this modification is generated by the actions and flows of signs, it is pertinent to read Peirce's notion of experience in relation to his notion of semiosis. Consequently, a Peircean reading of Wings of Desire not only helps to explore how experience teaches, but also the ways in which the rudeness of experience cannot be fully understood without considering the sign's action



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