Individualism and Perceptual Content
Davies (Martin)
Source: Mind 100.4, Oct. 1991, pp. 461-484
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Tyler Burge (1986) has argued that the practice of psychology-particularly the practice of the psychology of vision-is not individualistic. This is to say, roughly, that the semantic contents of states cited in psychological theory do not supervene1 upon the internal constitution-physical, chemical, neural, or functional-of the creature whose states they are. Not everyone has been convinced by Burge's arguments, and some have expressed their scepticism in print (e.g. Matthews 1988; Segal 1989; McGinn 1989). Nevertheless, I claim, Burge is right; in the following pages, I explain why.
  2. In fact, Burge's paper has two main phases. In the first phase, Burge rejects arguments (e.g. Fodor 1986 and 1987, Chapter 2) that purport to show that any psychology worthy of the name "science" must restrict itself to individualistic taxonomies. Then, in the second phase, Burge argues that psychology, as we actually find it, is not individualistic, and that there are powerful, general, reasons to reject individualism about perceptual content.
  3. I shall not focus at all on the first phase. I agree with Burge that scientific psychology is not obliged to restrict itself to individualistic taxonomies (Davies 1986; Jackson and Pettit 1988; McGinn 1989, Chapter 2); in particular, it is not obliged to restrict itself to an individualistic notion of intentional content. In fact, I am even sceptical as to whether there is such a thing as individualistic, or narrow, content; but that is not the issue here. Even supposing that a notion of narrow content is available, if psychology also employs a non-individualistic notion of content-or, say, a spectrum of broader and narrower notions-then psychology is not individualistic.
  4. My concern is exclusively with the second phase of Burge's paper. In Section 2 and Section 3, I review Burge's two main lines of argument. After those two sections, the conclusion is that the most promising line of attack for the individualist is to be somewhat revisionary about the attribution of perceptual content. In Section 4 and Section 5, I go on to examine, and ultimately to reject, a revisionary individualist strategy that is suggested by both Robert Matthews (1988) and Gabriel Segal (1989). In Section 6, I identify what I take to be the error in the revisionary strategy. Thus, I claim, Burge is correct: the content of perceptual experience is not individualistic.

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