- Representationalism is a thesis about the phenomenal character of experiences, about their immediate subjective or felt qualities. The thesis is sometimes stated as a supervenience1 claim: necessarily, experiences that are alike in their representational contents are alike in their phenomenal character. In its strong form, representationalism is an identity thesis. It asserts that phenomenal character is one and the same as representational content that meets certain further conditions. Representationalists are sometimes also content-externalists. The combination of representationalism about phenomenal character with externalism about content yields phenomenal externalism (the view that qualia ain't in the head).
- Objections to representationalism often take the form of putative counterexamples. One class of these consists of cases in which, it is claimed, experiences have the same representational content but different phenomenal character. Christopher Peacocke adduces examples of this sort. Another class is made up of problem cases in which allegedly experiences have different representational contents (of the relevant sort) but the same phenomenal character. Ned Block's Inverted Earth example is of this type. The latter cases only threaten strong representationalism, the former are intended to refute representationalism in both its strong and weaker forms. Counter-examples are also sometimes given in which supposedly experience of one sort or another is present but in which there is no state with representational content. Swampman — the molecule by molecule replica of Donald Davidson, formed accidentally by the chemical reaction that occurs in a swamp when a partially submerged log is hit by lightning — is one such counter-example, according to some philosophers. But there are more mundane cases. Consider the exogenous feeling of depression. That, it may seem, has no representational content. Cases of the third sort, depending upon how they are elucidated further, can pose a challenge to either strong or weaker versions of representationalism.
- Here I will concentrate almost entirely on visual experience and the question of whether there are any clear counter-examples to the following modality-specific2, weak representational thesis:
(R) Necessarily, visual experiences that are alike with respect to their representational contents are alike phenomenally.
- This thesis seems to me to have considerable interest in itself, for if it is true, it tells us something important and striking about the metaphysical basis of visual phenomenology. And if it is false, then strong representationalism — the thesis that phenomenal character is one and the same as representational content that meets certain further conditions — is automatically false too. At the end of the chapter I shall also make some remarks on two examples that purport to show that (R) cannot be strengthened to cover experiences in different sensory modalities3 that are alike in their representational contents.
- The problem cases upon which I shall focus are all real world ones. So, there is no question about whether the cases could occur. Those who think that the inverted spectrum supplies a possible counter-example to (R) will, no doubt, take the view that this attention to the actual is too confining. After all, (R) is a modal4 thesis. To refute it, we only need a possible exception.
- This is true, of course, as far as it goes. However, if the necessity in (R) is metaphysical, then counter-examples must be metaphysically possible. Mere conceptual possibility will not suffice. Whether the inverted spectrum really does provide metaphysically possible cases of visual experiences that are phenomenally inverted and yet representationally identical is open to dispute. Indeed it may be disputed whether such cases are even conceptually possible. I do not want to become embroiled in that dispute here. My aim is more modest: I want to see if there are any clear-cut, actual cases that involve representational identity and phenomenal difference.
- I shall have relatively little to say about the original Peacocke examples. There are now well-known replies to these examples by representationalists; and I think that it is fair to say that a good many philosophers are persuaded by these replies. My primary interest is in a range of new problem cases that have surfaced for thesis (R) in the fifteen years since (Peacocke’s) Sense and Content was published. The new cases I shall address, though actual, for the most part involve visual oddities of one sort or another: blurry images, after-images, phosphenes, tunnel vision, vision with eyes closed, double vision. What I shall try to show is that none of these cases is convincing. Representationalism remains unconquered!
- The chapter is divided into three sections. In the first section, I sketch out how I think of the various different levels of representational content to be found in visual experience. In the second section, I take up counter-examples to (R). The final section briefly addresses two problem cases for an amodal5 version of (R).
- Levels of Content in Visual Experience
- Fig. 1.1: Effect of Apperceptive Agnosia
- Fig. 1.2: Effect on Perception of Orientation of Head
- Fig. 1.3: The Impossible Figure
- Replies to Counter-Examples
- Case 1: The Long, Dark Tunnel
- Case 2: The Tilted Coin
- Case 3: Blurred Vision
… Fig. 1.4: A Checkerboard Picture (of Abraham Lincoln)
- Case 4: The Apparent Location of an After-image
- Case 5: Eyes Closed Towards the Sun
- Case 6: Double Vision
- Case 7: Sexism, Racism and Ageism
- Cross-Modal6 Cases
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