Phenomenology, Discourse and their Objects

Graham Harman recently responded (here) to my musings on his argument for his fourfold structure (here). That post was quite brief, but it suggested that the way to reject his approach is to reject the phenomenological standpoint that its based upon, loosely summed up in the idea that ontology must begin with experience. Given that Graham has picked up on the points I made, I feel that I should probably go into a bit more detail, although this will unfortunately fall short of presenting my alternative to phenomenology (fundamental deontology) in full. First though, I think it’s important to say a little bit more about what the core features of phenomenology are, before we try to provide possible reasons for rejecting them. I am of course no expert on Husserl, so my analysis will be faily crude, but hopefully fair nonetheless.

1. The Basic Problems with Phenomenology

Skipping over the methodological details of phenomenology (which are certainly most interesting), I think the two most important features to pick out are the theory of intentionality, and the correlative theory of meaning or content. The first encapsulates the real advance of phenomenology (via Brentano) over both the empiricist and Kantian accounts of experience. The advance over empiricism is threefold. First, phenomenology surpasses the empiricists’ indirect realism, holding that we do not experience ideas or representations of things, but that our experiences are directed at the things themselves. Secondly, experience is the encountering of objects as objects, not the encountering of bundles of sense data that must be actively united into objects. Thirdly, phenomenology takes the objects that our experiences are directed at to transcend our experiences of them. As Graham is fond of pointing out, this has the effect of opening up a distinction between the objects of experience and the qualities that they present to us.

The advance over Kant is more subtle, and more important for my purposes. For Kant, as for phenomenology, we encounter objects in experience, not patches of sense data (it is important to remember that, for Kant, experience and intuition are distinct). However, this is because experience has the structure of predicative judgment. The experience of a tree as a tree involves a synthesis of recognition in which the judgment ‘this is a tree’ is produced. By contrast, for phenomenology, experience is pre-predicative. The content of experience is not that of a judgment, but instead constitutes the evidence on the basis of which one would make, or acknowledge the truth of the judgment. Fundamentally, for phenomenology, judgment is grounded in experience, and not vice versa.

This leads quite naturally into the second feature of phenomenology I wanted to pick out: the phenomenological approach to meaning or content. Now, it’s important to point out that there are obvious internal differences between phenomenologists regarding how to understand meaning or content. I’m not going to address these here. I’m just going to make a fairly general claim which I think catches them all. In accordance with its prioritisation of experience over judgment, phenomenology makes the content of judgment, and the meaning of the words that express it, derivative upon the content of experience. Concepts or predicates get their sense from an originally pre-conceptual or pre-predicative level of phenomenal content. I think Merleau-Ponty describes this best in the preface to the phenomenology of perception, where he criticises the linguistic philosophy of the early 20th century for taking the meanings of words for granted, and failing to ground them back in the original experience of the phenomena.

Okay then, now that I’ve explained the phenomenological picture in very broad strokes, I can move on to providing some reasons why I think we should reject it. A good first point to make here is that although the three positions presented above (empiricism, Kantianism, and phenomenology) have quite radical differences, they all share one thing in common: they all take it that there is something like a content of experience prior to judgment. Putting it a different way, they all accept that there is something given in experience, and that this must somehow be translated into judgment. Of course, they all differ over what this content is, and thus also precisely how it is related to judgment. Empiricism is hard to pin down on this point, as its attempts to characterise the content of experience and its relation to judgment ranges from the crude theories of ideas and their association found in the original empiricists to the vastly more complicated accounts of the logical empiricists. Regardless, the most interesting contrast is still to be found between phenomenology and Kantianism.

Kant takes there to be a content of intuition, a non-conceptual matter of sensation which must be related to concepts to produce the determinative judgment of recognition. The principal problem of the first critique is the attempt to work out how this non-conceptual content can be related to the conceptual in a systematic fashion. There is thus a relation between the non-conceptual given and the conceptually articulated content of judgment, but this is not a straightforward matter of derivation. For Kant, the conceptual has a life of its own beyond intuition, insofar as concepts are rules governing inference between the judgments they make up (e.g., if x is a dog then x is a mammal). In addition, Kantian intuition plays no justificatory role, i.e., it is not evidence for judgment. Phenomenology shares the Kantian concern with a pre-conceptual content of experience, but it takes this content to be much richer, so rich in fact that the conceptually articulated content of judgments is an abstraction from it. The content of a judgment is both derived from phenomenal content, and justified on the basis of it. Moreover, it is important to recognise that the derivative character of conceptual content is based on the role of phenomenal content as evidence. For phenomenology, a judgment is itself intentional, but its content is based on the intuition which would fulfil it, i.e., on the phenomenal content that would count as evidence for it.

Now, there has been much work done criticising ‘the myth of the given’ (inspired of course by Sellars). This is primarily aimed at the empiricist and Kantian conceptions of sense data. I’m not going to rehearse all of this here (in part because I’m not yet fully acquainted with Sellars, but get most of my take on him via Brandom). Instead, I’m going to take aim directly at phenomenology, and argue that the kind of pre-predicative phenomenal content it posits is redundant. As such, I’m going to do exactly what Graham hints at in his second counter point, and deny the existence of the phenomenological sphere entirely. I’m going to do this in two ways. First, I’m going to argue for a certain constraint on accounts of conceptual content which the phenomenological theory of judgment doesn’t take into account. Secondly, I’m going to argue that there are no good reasons for thinking that we need to posit anything like evidence for making a judgment, or taking it to be true. The first point shows that the pre-predicative phenomenal content is not sufficient for the derivation of conceptual content, and the second point shows that it is not necessary. Taken together, these demonstrate the redundancy of the notion of pre-predicative phenomenal content.

i) Concepts and Inference

First, as just noted, I’m going to argue for a specific constraint on accounts of conceptual content. I’m going to do this by examining what it is to grasp a concept, and thus also what it is to grasp the content of a judgment that is composed out of such concepts. The first important thing to point out here is the necessary relation between concepts and judgment. Although judgments are composed out of concepts, this does not mean that concepts can be understood independently of their role in composing judgments. In fact, the opposite is true – we must understand concepts in terms of the role they play in judgment. We will return to this point later.

Now, the ordinary way of understanding the grasp of a concept, and thus also the grasp of the content of judgments that it is involved in, is in terms of classification. The idea here is that one has a grasp of the concept if one can adequately (not necessarily infallibly) classify things into those that do and those that don’t fall under the concept. Phenomenology takes this rough approach insofar as it takes one’s grasp of the content of judgments such as ‘this is blue’, to be dependent upon one’s grasp of what phenomenal content would count as evidence for taking the judgment to be true. Our grasp of the conceptual content of judgments is directly linked to our ability to discriminate the salient features of the phenomena. I’m going to argue that, although there must be some role for such discriminative abilities in accounting for our grasp of concepts, on their own they are not sufficient to constitute a grasp of concepts and thus also the judgments they compose.

Here I’m going to turn to Brandom’s tried and tested parrot example. The idea here is that one could train a parrot to say ‘this is red’ whenever it was showed something red, and it would thus have a perfectly effective ability to discriminate between cases of redness and non-redness. However, we wouldn’t like to say that the parrot thereby understands the content of what it is saying. Indeed, we’d rather claim that it isn’t strictly saying anything at all, as much as making sound. Here the parrot functions in the same way that a red-detecting machine would. It has a reliable causal disposition to discriminate between the red and the non-red, but it does not thereby grasp the concept red. What the parrot (or the machine for that matter) is missing is a grasp of the consequences of the claim ‘this is red’. One doesn’t understand the content of ‘this is red’, unless one understands that this implies ‘this is not green’, or ‘this is coloured’, etc. and one doesn’t understand the concept ‘red’ unless one understands the systematic role it plays in constituting these relations (e.g., that ‘x is red’ implies ‘x is not green’, ‘x is coloured’, etc.). In essence, in order to have a grasp of any conceptual content, one needs to have a grasp of where it stands within what Sellars called the space of reasons. Now, this understanding need not be explicit and theoretical, but can (and for the most part does) simply consist in a practical ability to navigate the space of reasons within ordinary discourse. It consists in the practical abilities required to play the game of giving and asking for reasons that lies at the heart of discourse.

The constraint on accounts of conceptual content is thus the following: a grasp of the content of a judgment must involve a grasp of the inferential relations it stands in with other judgments, and a grasp of the content of a concept must involve a grasp of the systematic contribution it makes to the inferential relations of the judgments it is involved in. This spells out the intimate relation between concepts and judgments mentioned above. There are two qualifiers to this constraint. First, this constraint calls for some understanding of inferential relations, not a complete understanding. Precisely what constitutes a sufficient understanding in any given case is not something we need decide. All that we need defend is that it is not the case that one could grasp a conceptual content and have no grasp of its inferential role. Secondly, we must repeat that this doesn’t deny that classificatory or discriminative abilities play some role in the grasp of conceptual content, it simply holds that this is not sufficient on its own. The phenomenological account of the way in which the content of judgments is derivative upon phenomenal content does not meet this constraint, insofar as it says nothing about inferential role. It is thus isn’t sufficient as an account of the content of judgments.

ii) Evidence and Observation

I’m now going to argue for the redundancy of the phenomenological notion of evidence, and thereby complete my argument for the redundancy of pre-predicative phenomenal content as such. To do this its important to get clear about the precise role that the notion of evidence plays. As we have already noted, evidence is a justificatory notion. Among other things, it is meant to account for the contribution that perceptual observation (as well as the other non-sensary forms of intuition Husserl was interested in) makes to debate. On this account there are two different forms of justification: inferential and evidential. Inferential justification involves judgments (or claims) supplying warrant for other judgments (e.g., ‘It’s Sunday tomorrow, because it’s Saturday today’), whereas evidential justification involves appealing to something other than judgment for warrant, namely, the intuition which fulfils the judgment. Now, we all know that we need to give some account of the way that perceptual observation enters into discourse. It seems to be the case that some claims are justified on the basis of experience, rather than on the basis of other claims. The question is whether we need to posit anything like an evidential content distinct from the content of the judgment it grounds in order to do this.

What the phenomenological approach does is to effectively situate a mediating layer between the causal affection which produces sensation and the observation judgment which arises from it (causation – evidence – judgment). This has been described by others as a level that mediates between the space of causes and the space of reasons. This is problematic because it introduces a transition from evidence to judgment wherein the evidence functions like a reason, without actually being a reason. Specifically, evidence isn’t open to the same kinds of public challenges and criticism that genuine reasons are, i.e., it can’t contribute to the eminently social dimension of reasoning. Put simply, the evidence of my senses might have force analogous to that of a good reason for believing a particular claim for me, but it does not have that force for anyone else, whereas if reasons are good reasons, then they are so for everyone (at least in principle, there are some caveats about auxiliary commitments to be made here). Without this social dimension, wherein one’s reasons can be demanded and criticised it’s hard to see how evidence can count as anything like justification at all.

There are really two good arguments for thinking that there needs to be such a mediating level, both of which turn on appeals to what experience is like for us. First, it is noted that not only can we encounter something as being a certain way, without thereby explicitly judging that it is that way, but that we can in fact refuse to assent to a corresponding explicit judgment. I can encounter a pink elephant in an inebriated state and nonetheless refuse to judge that there is a pink elephant in front of me. This seems to indicate that there is something given prior to judgment, which can be, but need not be, translated into judgment. Secondly, it is noted that the phenomenal character of our experience as we experience it is indeed richer than any given judgment that it might count as evidence for. We genuinely do encounter objects as being certain kinds of things, and as being certain ways, but the content of the encounter is a unified experience that must be taken apart in order to isolate the specific features that any given judgment touches on. Moreover, there are features of this which are totally absent from judgment, such as the horizonal character of intentional experience. In order to show that the notion of evidence is redundant I need to tackle both of these arguments.

Taking the first argument first then, Sellars provides us with a very neat counter point. The pink elephant case is one in which we might say something like “It seems like there is a pink elephant in front of me”, rather than “There is a pink elephant in front of me”. The standard Cartesian approach inherited by Husserl takes such claims about seeming or appearance to be incorrigible. I might be able to be mistaken about whether or not there is in fact a pink elephant in front of me, but I can’t be mistaken about whether it seems to me to be the case. The Cartesian strategy is then to try and give an account of how such incorrigible (or immanent) knowledge can be used as the basis for genuine empirical knowledge. So, from a first personal perspective, experiential evidence functions as the basis for making a particular claim, but from the perspective of the public activity of giving and asking for reasons for the claims we make ‘seems’ statements serve to make this warrant explicit, even if we recognise that things can seem to be one way and actually be another. Sellars’ insight is that we needn’t see ‘seems’ claims as providing anything like justification for proper claims. Instead, Sellars takes it that proper claims (or assertions) and ‘seems’ claims share the same content, whereas the former assert that this content is true, the latter withdraw such assent. What is withdrawn is the responsibility to justify a claim that one undertakes when one makes an ordinary assertion. As such, ‘seems’ claims are not claims about some special inner dimension which are automatically justified, but are rather a privative form of assertion for which the question of justification does not arise.

This is of course only part of the story. We also need an account of how it is that perceptual observation does enter into the game of giving and asking for reasons, of how there can be something like a non-inferential input into discourse, that does not appeal to this mediating level of phenomenal content. Sellars also provides us with the basics of this (and Brandom expands on it, although, there is a massive debate between him and McDowell here that I’m not an expert on). There are a couple ideas that need to be elaborated to explain this. First, we need to recognise that there is indeed an additional level to the process of justification. However, this is not that of evidence, but rather that of deference. As already noted, when we make a claim we undertake a responsibility to justify that claim, or to demonstrate our entitlement to it. There are two ways to do this: to provide reasons for it, or to defer to another’s authority. Deferring to another’s authority means we pass the buck on to them to justify the claim. This is unproblematic, because the only way I can do this is if they have made the claim themselves, and if they have done so, then they have already undertaken a responsibility to so justify it. So, making a claim not only means that I undertake a responsibility to demonstrate my entitlement to it, it also involves licensing others to make that claim, and thereby to defer to me when they are called on to justify it. Secondly, we need to recognise the default and challenge structure of discourse. The idea here is that assertions are entitled by default. This default entitlement can then be challenged, but such challenges are not free, and must themselves be warranted. In essence, claims stand unless there is a good reason to question them. This is what ultimately stymies the pyrrhonian skeptic’s regress of reasons.

The Sellarsian solution leverages these two insights in order to provide a second person account of how observation functions as a non-inferential input into discourse. If I’m sitting in Coventry, discussing with my girlfriend what the weather is like in Sunderland, I can call up my brother and ask him whether he can see snow outside his window. If he says ‘yes’, then I can confidently assert that ‘It’s snowing in Sunderland’. Here I have deferred to my brother’s authority, but I haven’t deferred to him as someone who can provide further reasons for his claim, or as someone who is himself deferring to someone else. Instead, I am deferring to him as a reliable reporter of snow. In order to challenge my claim that it is snowing in Sunderland, my girlfriend then needs to provide a good reason to think that my brother is not a reliable reporter of snow, or at least that he is not a reliable reporter in the given circumstances. She might know that he’s currently tripping on acid for instance, which would potentially put his ability to reliably classify the weather as snow in question. In essence, when we endorse an observation claim made by someone else, we endorse an implicit reliability inference, ‘x says a is F’, ‘x is a reliable reporter of F’s’, therefore ‘a is F’, and challenges to the claim have to provide reasons for taking this inference to be faulty.

The important fact to recognise here is that this makes the argument about whether or not the claim is warranted an argument about the individual’s discriminative capacities, but it treats those capacities in purely causal manner. In challenging observational claims (leaving issues of sincerity and such aside), we are interested in the causal factors that affect the individuals disposition to make certain assertions on the basis of certain stimuli. At no point do we need to say anything about an internal dimension of phenomenal content that mediates between the causal sensory stimuli and the judgment or assertion. This account can then be transposed to the first personal perspective. In making an observation report I am implicitly endorsing a reliability inference. Although from my first person perspective it might seem as if I am presented with evidence on the basis of which I make a certain claim, the form of the inference that I endorse by making an observational claim within discourse is only concerned with my causal dispositions.

This leads us nicely into the second argument, which stresses the complex structure of our experience in excess of this seemingly crude account of causal dispositions. To counter this argument it is important to recognise what phenomenology aims at in general, namely, a universal account of the structures of consciousness qua consciousness. This account is meant to be independent of any account of the particular causal mechanisms that such a consciousness might be manifest in, indeed, it’s meant to be indifferent to discussions of causal mechanisms entirely. Now, the Brandomian/Sellarsian account of observation statements as non-inferential inputs into discourse presented above is universal, but not indifferent. It does imply that anything that could count as an observer have causal dispositions to make reports, but it doesn’t present any specific limitations on what the specific mechanisms underlying such dispositions would have to be. That being said, it doesn’t preclude an analysis of the specifics of those mechanisms, in fact, it encourages it. Importantly, this doesn’t just involve an analysis of the mechanisms underlying our discriminatory capacities, but also an analysis of the mechanisms underlying our capacities to engage in discourse. This means we’re open to an account of how our perceptual mechanisms are already bound up with the mechanisms which constitute those abilities in which our grasp of concepts consists (which I think is what McDowell’s whole discussion of conceptual capacities is about). This kind of empirical analysis promises to account for the richness of experience in its difference from (yet connection with) the conceptual content of judgment, but it promises to do it in a way which is specific to the actual mechanisms in which the given ‘consciousness’ is manifest, without appealing to anything like a universal form of content shared by all such ‘consciousnesses’.

I’ve put scare quotes around the word ‘consciousness’ in the last line because I ultimately feel that the word ‘consciousness’ has lost any usefulness it might have had in philosophical debate. It has way too much baggage. Some take it to be an empirical matter, some take it to be a non-empirical matter, and the vast majority end up somewhere in between, and such quasi-empirical notions either need to be cleaned up or jettisoned. Personally, I vote for the latter. In essence, what I’ve been arguing for here is not just the redundancy of the notion of phenomenal content (which I think I’ve provided some good reasons for), but also for the redundancy of the idea of a universal structure of consciousness. We don’t need something like consciousness mediating between the particular causal structures within which discursively capable beings are manifest and the universal normative structures of discourse within which they move. We don’t need to posit a self-sufficient phenomenological sphere, no matter how much its self-sufficiency is apparent to us.

2. A Small Note On Causation

Having got my reasons for rejecting phenomenology off of my chest, I think there is an additional interesting point that can be made about Graham’s work in light of the above considerations. Although I characterised the phenomenological level as mediating between the causal and the discursive, phenomenologists obviously wouldn’t accept this analysis straightforwardly, precisely because of the indifference to causality I mentioned above. Graham is an even more interesting case though. He effectively does the opposite of what I’ve done above, by trying to show that causation needs to be understood in terms of the phenomenological account of phenomenal content. This means he actually needs to maintain phenomenology’s indifference to causal mechanisms in an even more radical way than most, because he has to secure the universal character of the structure of intentionality for all objects, independently of their particular causal make up, in order then to base his account of causality on this structure.

Now, I suspect Graham will respond to the above by suggesting that it takes the nature of causality for granted. To defend myself against this in advance, the above doesn’t commit itself to any specific metaphysics of causality. If it is incompatible with Graham’s account of causality, it is not because it makes some particular assumptions about the nature of causality as much as because it rejects the phenomenological grounds on which Graham’s account is built. Now, at this point one might maintain by reductio ad absurdum that my account is false, because Graham’s phenomenological approach is necessary to solve a problem with regard to the metaphysics of causality, namely, the problem of how it is possible that objects can interact. My response to this is that I don’t really see the problem Graham finds here. This isn’t because I am committed to a naive scientism, and just take causality for granted. I think that there are a lot of very interesting questions with regard to the metaphysical status of causation. I genuinely believe a metaphysical theory of causation is required, and that it needs to involve such things as an account of the relation between causation and law, the status of statistical causation, and the relation between causation and mereology. However, I don’t see why it is any more problematic to claim that there can be direct interactions between entities than it is to claim that there can be interactions between real objects and sensual objects.

Now, Graham has given quite a detailed historical background to this problem. He sees this problem as being dealt with both in the classical metaphysical occasionalism of Islamic philosophy and Malebranch, and in what he has identified as the more epistemologically inflected occasionalism of Hume and Kant. Graham criticises both of these trends as global forms of occasionalism, which require all causal relations to be mediated by the same thing, be it God in the former or the mind in the latter, and proposes, along with Latour, a local occasionalism. However, although I can just about see the unity of the occasionalist tradition as he presents it, I don’t see a unified philosophical problem that stands outside the various sub-traditions that make it up. For instance, classical metaphysical occasionalism did not only provide a theological solution, but was motivated by a theological problem about the power of God. If we no longer take metaphysics to be bound by theology, then this problem has no hold on us. Similarly, Hume and Kant are motivated by empiricist epistemological concerns that we also may now reject (and I do). This means we need a good reason to accept the problematic status of direct causal relations independent of these traditions. Now, I think Graham does provide such a reason, but this reason is based upon his account of how real objects withdraw from our experience of them, and also from each other. This means that within Graham’s system, this is a genuine problem which needs a solution. However, this problem can’t thereby motivate us to take up the rest of Graham’s position. Graham either needs to motivate the phenomenological standpoint he adopts independently of the problem of causality, or to provide a non-phenomenological account of the problem.

3. Conclusion

My original intention in this post was to go a bit more into what I’d promised to say about a discursive account of the for-us/in-itself distinction. However, this post is already a lot longer than I’d intended it to be, and I need to get on with some thesis work. I will get back to talking about this in more detail at some point hopefully. I’d also intended to say something more about the object/qualities distinction, as Graham said I ignored it in my previous post. I didn’t exactly ignore it, but I didn’t entirely suggest where I stand on it. I suppose I’m still slightly confused as to whether Graham means that an object has essential qualities which are in excess of its accidental qualities, or whether an object is in excess of all its qualities. I can just about see reasons for why you’d think either from a discursive position (though I’ll have to leave these to another time too). However, I’d like to close by addressing Graham’s third point, which I’ll quote in full:-

“Moreover, if our understanding of reality is not indexed to some notion of experience, then we need not think of the real properties of entities in terms of any model of experiential qualities, be it an empiricist model or the Husserlian model Harman advocates.” This gets me slightly wrong. I don’t think that the real properties of entities can be experienced. For me there is an absolute gap between real properties and experienced properties. It’s not I, but rather the cognitive science wing of S.R. that insists on the correspondence theory of truth (which is not an essential part of realism, incidentally; I’d even say the opposite– if you think the real can be exhausted by knowledge of it, then you aren’t a genuine realist).

I wasn’t suggesting that Harman thinks that the real properties of an object can be experienced. What I was suggesting was that the second axis in Harman’s model is derived from the Husserlian account of experience, and that he extends this from the sensual into the real. It’s my conviction that we shouldn’t base our account of real properties on anything like experience, even if we take them to be impossible to experience. Properties like mass, hyperconductivity, and economic stability shouldn’t be understood even on analogy with experiencible qualities.

Right, back to Heidegger for me…


32 Responses to “Phenomenology, Discourse and their Objects”

  1. […] 21, 2009 Deontologistics has a DETAILED ANTI-PHENOMENOLOGY POST UP in response to my remarks of five or so days ago. I’m just noting this now to register that I […]

  2. doctorzamalek Says:

    Thanks for the detailed post, Pete. Just give me a few more days while I finish off a few pressing tasks. Maybe it’ll take as long as a week, but I hope not.

    • deontologistics Says:

      No problem. I’ve got a lot of my own work to do, and I’m struggling through a nightmarish bout of writers block, so I’m in no hurry.

  3. […] made AN INTERESTING LONG POST a couple of weeks ago, in response to my response, and I’ve been held up by plenty of […]

  4. […] 3, 2010 All right, here is my response to the more intricate first part of the DEONTOLOGISTICS post of last month. TWO DAYS AGO I responded to his points about occasionalism (he thinks […]

  5. Paul Bains Says:

    It would be most interesting to see further discussion on this. I, as an interested amateur, tried to give an account of a relatively unknown tradition (Poinsot-Peirce-Deely).
    In this approach ‘intentional inexistence’ (Brentano) is not a third object on the interior of something else, but a relation that does not get in the way. “Objective being” (sensuous objects) is not a screen that is first known…before something else is known.
    I tried to explore some of this in ‘The Primacy of Semiosis’, relating this relatively ignored tradition (the late-latin scholasticism of Poinsot) to Deleuze. It all hinges on the ontological status of relations and an ontology of relative beings and their relations (which becomes substances and their accidents. Of course if one were to take any of it on board it might complicate things.
    It would also be interesting to see more discussion on the ‘inadequacy’ of efficient causation to account for causal interaction.
    The sufi influenced Gurdjieff once said, only partly in jest, that all he taught was that ‘when it rains the pavements get wet.’
    Anyway best of luck to you all in the new decade.

  6. […] is not structured like a language” over at We Have Never Been Blogging. The other is “Phenomenology, Discourse and their Objects” at […]

  7. […] Deontologistics Researching the Demands of Thought « Phenomenology, Discourse and their Objects […]

  8. […] I have expressed my general dislike of such hazy ideas of ‘consciousness’ elsewhere (here). When Brandom says that “Mammalian sensuousness, sentience, is at best a necessary […]

  9. […] the strategy Graham himself pursues to some extent (which I discussed with him  a while back here, here and here). The interesting point is that although we can definitely say that the latter strategy […]

  10. […] I just happen to think that there are a number of reasons why this is the wrong place to start (see here and […]

  11. […] us back to the ongoing debate over the viability of phenomenology as a method for ontology (see here and here). The concern I have here parallels the problems I have with Levi’s argument that […]

  12. […] Phenomenology, Discourse and their Objects […]

  13. The starting point for historical debate on this subject was incorrigibility, on this subject you introduce the possibility of “seems claims” and say:

    “As such, ‘seems’ claims are not claims about some special inner dimension which are automatically justified, but are rather a privative form of assertion for which the question of justification does not arise.”

    This is not an attack on incorrigibility but an attack on the veracity of reporting You then extend this consideration of veracity to claims in general by discussing snow in Sunderland:

    “At no point do we need to say anything about an internal dimension of phenomenal content that mediates between the causal sensory stimuli and the judgment or assertion.”

    This is a reasonable inference because the person in Sunderland could as well be an automated weather station. However, there seems to be a confusion here about reporting things that are specific to my experience and events that can have similar characteristics in both the world and in my experience. An event that involves a movement can occur in my experience and a similar event can occur in an unobserved forest. There is nothing special about a moving object but this fact cannot be used to say there is nothing special about my experience.

    You then introduce a schema for dealing with experience that:

    “… doesn’t just involve an analysis of the mechanisms underlying our discriminatory capacities, but also an analysis of the mechanisms underlying our capacities to engage in discourse.”

    The use of the term “mechanism” implies a Newtonian Cosmology. It suggests that the world will be explained by parts moving one upon another. If I put this together with your analysis of “seems claims” the two are consistent, if the world is motions of objects pushing one on another then there is indeed nothing characteristic of a mind that might not also be characteristic of a weather station or any other reporting mechanism.

    Suppose we abandon Newtonian Cosmology for a moment and ask if there are any events and forms that are characteristic of experience in the same way as we might ask if there are characteristic features of a black hole or an electron. When I ask this question of my own experience there are some obvious features such as the ability to hear whole words, to see movements as movements rather than comparisons of data points, to have objects arranged in space around a viewing point without any flow into the point etc. Indeed the form of my experience is highly peculiar (See Time and conscious experience for more details). The most striking characteristic of experience is its form, not its content. It seems to belong to some real cosmology rather than a Newtonian fantasy.

    • deontologistics Says:

      The point is not that I have to argue that there is nothing special about experience. If I provide an account of thought and knowledge that requires no special role for experience, and indeed, explains a variety of epistemological issues better than phenomenological approaches, I have shown the notion of experience deployed in these approaches to be redundant. The onus is on those who adopt these approaches (yourself included) to show that it is not redundant, that there are things that can’t be explained without it. The problem is that all the arguments I have come across to this effect are circular. Your argument here seems to be of just this form, insofar as you are saying ‘well consider these things in experience that you cannot account for without experience’. The notion of experience in both cases is a thick ontological notion of experience as some kind of privileged ontological domain independent of the natural world. It is trivial that if we accept the existence of this domain that we cannot explain it naturalistic terms. I simply do not accept its existence, and I don’t need to, because it is explanatorily redundant.

      As for this stuff about ‘Newtonian Cosmology’ that’s an awful lot to read into the word ‘mechanism’. I need’t say anything about the metaphysics of causality in order to show that observational discourse regresses to arguments about causes. The metaphysics of causality is a matter of interpreting the significance of these causal debates, but it doesn’t change anything about their structure. I could thus have a totally non-Newtonian metaphysics (and I do) and my point would still hold. I think there might be a good sense in which whatever metaphysics we adopt needs to be a deterministic one, but there are non-Newtonian determinisms. Again, I think you’re getting metaphysical and epistemological issues mixed up.

  14. “If I provide an account of thought and knowledge that requires no special role for experience, and indeed, explains a variety of epistemological issues better than phenomenological approaches, I have shown the notion of experience deployed in these approaches to be redundant.”

    Here you are stating that a phenomenological approach is irrelevant to several things. Before I take a closer look at this I would like to pin down “phenomenological”. I don’t like Husserl and would prefer to talk in terms of experience itself. My understanding of your argument is that you are saying that “experience” adds nothing to the explanation of thought and knowledge.

    Again I would like to pin down our terms: “thought” I will take in Descartes sense of the word as “ideas” – all the events in experience. Experience then contains events. However, if I redefine “thought” as the events without a container then I can indeed detach these from “experience” by the use of the relationships between events. As an example I can relate a movement in my experience to a movement of an object in the space beyond my eyes and then talk of the properties of this object rather than the properties of the event in my experience. This is a very useful thing to do when considering engines or watermills but replacing a set of events on Jupiter with the same set of events on Earth might miss something important about the container and I believe we also run this risk if we substitute events in the world beyond our eyes for those in the brain or mind. Whether it is the brain or mind we are considering we cannot really substitute events in another container and make progress. However, I am happy to discuss the possibility that experience might be nearly epiphenomenal.

    Which brings us to your statement about experience: “I simply do not accept its existence, and I don’t need to, because it is explanatorily redundant.” Suppose we assume that “experience” is nearly epiphenomenal. The pattern of the probability wave of an electron is effectively epiphenomenal because it nearly disappears when any interaction occurs and it was unnecessary to science until the twentieth century. However, it is now of crucial importance to the whole of physical chemistry. It appeared to be explanatorily redundant in 1890 but in 2010 is central to all explanations in chemistry. There were undoubtedly chemists in 1890 who thought that electron waves were unnecessary and explanatorily redundant. What would have happened if all chemists had simply not accepted the existence of probability waves because they felt they did not “need to”? The argument that we should reject an observation because we cannot, as yet, see how it explains anything is not valid. I reject your proposition that we should reject ideas that appear explanatorily redundant because this proposition either assumes that we possess all possible knowledge now or assumes that we are just not interested in new ideas.

    Which brings us to the problem of whether there is indeed a phenomenon called “experience”. In physics observation is an idealised phenomenon, it is the placing of events in a spatio-temporal coordinate sytem (it involves position and momentum, energy and time) whereas measurement is a transfer of energy to make a mark on an instrument (the eye, a ruler etc). What I regard as my experience is curiously close to this idealised physical “observation”. The idealised physical observer can see that there is an event at “A” that is simultaneous with an event at “B” whereas his instruments can only be made to crawl over the world and deliver a mysterious pulse when the events are simultaneous. The physical observer is an idealised point observer because other points in the coordinate system have slightly different observations with slightly different coordinate systems. This is all curiously like my experience. It is as if scientists, when observing the world have embedded it in their experience and related their measurements to this entity which they have renamed “observation”. Of course, Einstein’s point relativistic observer nestling in the centre of a light cone or Feynman’s observer who reconstructs the ripples around tiny slits are apparently impossible but they are not explanatorily redundant, far from it. Every physics book is written from the viewpoint, the literal point from which events are viewed, of this observer. The role of this observer is to help us to understand the physics in terms of our experience. Measurement without observation is meaningless.

    You say that I am “getting metaphysical and epistemological issues mixed up”, my riposte is that they are mixed together, cosmology and epistemology will be found to be deeply interrelated.

  15. deontologistics Says:

    I classify any approach as broadly phenomenological (as opposed to the narrow Husserlian sense) that understands the content of thought principally in terms of some notion of experiential content, or in terms of perceptual discriminatory capacities as understood from a first person perspective (which appears to be what you’re trying to do).

    I understand thought as distinctively discursive (or propositional) representation. Kant had such an account of thought, although he conceived it primarily in terms of some internal act of judging, whereas I, following Wittgenstein, Sellars, Brandom and others, provide a linguistic account of thought, in terms of the external act of assertion, and the role this plays within the social practice of giving and asking for reasons.

    Simply defining thought as experience doesn’t cut it, not least because precisely what ‘experience’ is in these terms is unclear (as evidenced by the fact that the only way to define it is by appealing to it), but also because such a conception of thought fails to take account of the most important part of thought, namely, the conceptually articulated claims we make about it, which alone can be true or false. The whole point of this post was to show that not only do we not need any metaphysically specious notion of experience in order to properly describe the structure of thought, but that non-phenomenological approaches are positively superior, insofar as they can account for things that phenomenological approaches cannot.

    Your counter argument to this claim about redundancy is very poor, in at least two different ways:-

    1. First, it’s not clear that you can even draw the loose analogy from epistemological explanation (which we’re talking about) to natural scientific explanation that the argument depends upon. Ignoring the differences between these, just as ignoring the boundary between metaphysics and epistemology, will lead you into some grave errors. To give a brief example, natural scientific explanation is principally causal explanation, but the introduction of a special metaphysical domain of experience undercuts this form of explanation.

    2. Second, even if we grant you the analogy, this is a classic example of over-extrapolation from the fact that scientific understanding changes. If correct, your reasoning would lead us to hold on to the existence of phlogiston (and indeed, every entity or domain of entities ever postulated), just in case at some point in the future it could possibly prove to be explanatory. You should draw inferences on the basis of your best current understanding, and if that understanding is revised, you revise your inferences. If something is redundant, you eliminate it. You can be forced to revoke this decision, but only on the basis of positive evidence, not on the basis of some flimsy ‘just in case we might need it’ defence.

    If you want to defend your metaphysics of experience, you need to show that it plays some useful role beyond explaining the way things ‘seem’ to you, because this argument is ultimately circular insofar as it depends upon giving some prior metaphysical status (and indeed, importance) to this seeming.

    Of course, it’s always possible that you can get some traction from the special role of the observer within physics, but I doubt it. The point of observation, albeit idealised, is nonetheless within the world, rather than outside it. This is evident from the fact that it is thought about in causal terms, as both passive (relativity) and active (quantum mechanics). Add on top of this the fact that the observer need not have any particular kind of causal structure, and you find that it can be replaced with a measuring device. No humans (or anything like them required). The wave would still collapse into a particle in the double slit experiment, even if no one read the results of the measuring instrument.

    We need to understand observation from two perspectives: the normative and the natural. From the former perspective, it is a matter of understanding how observation statements form a non-inferential input into the game of giving and asking for reasons. From the latter perspective, we need to explain the precise kinds of causal interactions underlying any given instance of observation, but this is just to treat ourselves and others like measuring devices. The former issue is an epistemological one, and the latter is a scientific one. The only metaphysical issues to be address here are those about the metaphysics of causation itself, but these are independent of the epistemological questions and must be sensitive to the scientific ones.

    I’m afraid that your riposte about cosmology and epistemology is a mere assertion. The argument against it is that one cannot know what metaphysics IS without epistemology, and that if metaphysics were grounded upon epistemology this would lead us in a vicious circle. One must do epistemology first, in order to work out what it is to do metaphysics, and not simply start from some vague intuition that they are interconnected. I’ve spent a lot of time in the essay just posted going through and showing how this can be done.

  16. You say: “You should draw inferences on the basis of your best current understanding, and if that understanding is revised, you revise your inferences. If something is redundant, you eliminate it. ” This statement contains a contradiction because, in the first sentence it is understanding that should be changed if an observation cannot be explained and in the second sentence it is observation that should be eliminated if it does not redundant according to your current understanding. You cannot have it both ways.

    The contradiction comes from a confusion between observation and explanation. Experience is what physicists would call an observational manifold, a coordinate system containing events with an apparent viewing point and simultaneity of events at each point on the time axis . It is not an explanation, it is an observation that needs to be explained. We know the nature of measurement but what is observation? Observation differs from measurement, look out there then tell me, hand on heart that you only, have a single point transfer of energy, a measurement, available to you at each instant rather than an observation.

    You seem to be boldly declaring that that you only accept the existence of phenomena that are not redundant for explaining events that you have already encountered. These events all involve change. Can you explain how one event changes to another? What is the difference between a moving object and a stationary object at any instant in your philosophy? I ask this because I would like to know your view on the role of time in the world.

  17. Sorry, there was a typo, for:

    “..eliminated if it does not redundant according to your current understanding”


    “..eliminated if it is redundant according to your current understanding”

  18. deontologistics Says:

    Do you think that we do not revise our observation claims? They are subject to revision just as non-observation claims, it is simply that in the context of scientific discourse observation claims have a certain priority. This priority does not amount to being unrevisable and intrinsically authoritative. The scientific process of revising our commitments is a reciprocal matter. Observation forces us to change our theories, but our theories provide us with the concepts in terms of which observation is interpreted. The structure of knowledge is holistic, even if scientific knowledge does have a special role for observation statements.

    You only read a contradiction here because you have a somewhat strange and metaphysically laden conception of observation. The way observation enters into reasoning, and thus understanding, is through observation *claims*, not as some kind of special form of representation distinct from discourse, nor as a special domain of entities (‘seemings’ or ‘symbols’ within a manifold). In scientific discourse, these observation statements can force us to revise our theories, which can involve changing our commitments as to what kind of entities exist. This is how entities become explanatorily redundant in the sciences: they become unnecessary to make a consistent and economical system of knowledge incorporating observation claims.

    Now, epistemological explanation – understanding the nature and possibility of knowledge and understanding – does not take the same form as scientific explanation. Yes, there can still be redundancy, insofar as certain posited entities can be unnecessary to adequately explain the various things under consideration, but this redundancy takes a different form, insofar as it is no longer a matter of forming a coherent system of knowledge incorporating observation, as it is explaining *what it is* to do this, and what the role of observation is within it. This is what I was getting at in the first point by saying that it’s questionable that the analogy your point was based on even works.

    So, I am not advocating the elimination of ‘observation’ in the broad sense, but rather the elimination of a distinct metaphysical domain (i.e., ‘experience’) which is not required to give an adequate explanation of epistemological issues. Most of your arguments seem to involve appealing to claims about how ‘experience’ must be explained, and this already assumes this thick metaphysical dimension. If I reject it’s existence, nothing needs to be explained. All that needs to be explained is the way that ‘observation’ in the broad sense enters into discourse, i.e., the relevant epistemological issues. Furthermore, I’m claiming that epistemology should depend upon no such metaphysical postulates, insofar as epistemology is what determines the structure of metaphysics itself. Against this, your mixed picture of epistemology and metaphysics is not only vague but unfounded.

    Now, I’ll repeat that I do think that there are genuine metaphysical questions, and that there are genuine questions about the metaphysics of time. They just have nothing to do with the character of my subjective experience of time, or what time is ‘like’ for me. I tend to think that time cannot be understood as a dimension, as this prevents us from understanding the (virtual) tendencies that underlie the production of actual events. This is something that dynamic systems theory has shown, insofar as all phase spaces must be constructed without a time-dimension. I also think that time cannot be understood as flowing at any particular rate, because this would require some privileged reference point that we aren’t allowed. This means that I think we need a conception of time as a flow without rate, and this is quite difficult to put together, but has some interesting metaphysical consequences. This is the basics of what I take to be Deleuze’s theory of time, and despite the fact that it is heavily influenced by Bergson, I think it can be reconstructed without any reference to first person experience.

  19. Hi,

    Sorry about the delay replying to your comment. I have just had a very pleasant holiday.

    The problem with Deleuze’s analysis of chronosigns is that the description is within a Newtonian framework. Yes, we have several times at the same time but this is not impossible, it is only impossible in a Newtonian context. Whitehead understands this problem of of time as synthesis more clearly than Deleuze and ends up with a dimensional time composed of overlapping time extended objects. Each object is a symbol but it is a symbol with extension in a coordinate system.

    You say of experience that: “If I reject it’s existence, nothing needs to be explained.” and this is true. I can reject the existence of a particular pebble on a beach because it does not help me explain anything but of course, the pebble still exists. Suppose, for the purpose of this discussion, that I allow that experience is ‘redundant’ as an explanation for anything beyond itself and that we will use the explanatory power of our general theories of the world to explain experience rather than vice-versa. There is then no need to be suspicious of experience unless it contradicts these theories. Given this provisional assumption, what can be claimed about experience as just another pebble?

    On first examination I can say that my experience is events arranged in space, but can events arranged in space exist according to current, widely accepted theories? The answer is unequivocally yes. Next I hear a bar of music, I hear the whole bar, not just a single note or less and I see movement and feel the swing of my limbs. Can things be extended in time like they are extended in space? Relativity and some recent experiments in quantum mechanics show that this is indeed the case. So far so good, there is nothing about my experience that contradicts our basic physical theories (although some people might argue about the nature of ‘time’). Lastly, my experience is a shell of events projected around a point. Does this contradict physical theory? This does not contradict physical theory but it does demand a specific interpretation of physical theory that was common in the early twentieth century but has been lost in the intervening years. In the early twentieth century the cosmological metric:

    ds^2 = dx^2 + dy^2 + dz^2 – (cdt)^2

    was interpreted as an equation about a real space-time separation, ds. If we accept this as reality then the equation:

    0 = dx^2 + dy^2 + dz^2 – (cdt)^2

    defines a shell of events distributed around a point that are no distance from the point but distributed in space (dx, dy, dz) and time (dt). I can indeed have a ‘point observation’ with objects that are extended in time and extended in space available at a point.

    This means that my “observational claim” does not violate any existing physical ideas. Of course you could disagree with my interpretation of physical theory but I have not actually violated any ideas or claims of standard physical models. Notice that all I am claiming is that the form of experience is, at least in part, the form of events in Minkowski spacetime, a form that is widely accepted today as the true physical form of the universe. So it is possible to accommodate “experience” even without a change in metaphysical ideas. Of course, given our provisional assumption, this “experience” has no more explanatory power than any other 4D manifold such as the manifold of impulses in my brain, but the objective in this comment was to show that experience could exist, not to show that it gives rise to any particular phenomenon beyond itself.

    All that is required to accommodate experience in our theories is to accept that the “time” variable in Minkoswki spacetime is an existent negative spatial dimension (the term “negative dimension” was introduced by Herman Weyl in 1918). This is not the same as accepting that the “time” variable in Minkowski spacetime is the same as the idea of “time” in philosophy. In fact I believe that dimensional time is not equivalent to whatever causes change and it is this confusion between dimensional time and change that leads non-physicists to reject relativity theory. In an age where experiments have been performed that involve actual communication with objects in the immediate past – an attosecond or so ago – it is especially odd that people reject the idea of dimensional time.

    From the viewpoint of philosophy I believe that I have demonstrated that “experience” could exist despite the provisional assumptions and have reduced the idea of refusing to accept the existence of experience on the basis of “explanatory redundancy” to the same level as refusing to accept the existence of a particular pebble on a beach because the other pebbles can explain what pebbles do. Sure, the “experience” that I have outlined above does not, within the context of the assumptions, explain anything except its own form but to deny the possibility of its existence would seem unnecessary.

    Which takes me to a scientific question: if almost everyone agrees that they have experience and if experience is not forbidden then why do we have it? Do pebbles have experience or is it a feature of a particular set of events in the brain?

  20. I was just looking at this article to see if you had replied and realised that “Yes, we have several times at the same time but this is not impossible, it is only impossible in a Newtonian context.” might seem obviously absurd without further explanation! I’ll explain: the standard argument against the ‘specious’ present is that it involves the apparently impossible paradox of two separate times occurring at the same time, this is an absurdity if we model time as a succession of three dimensional forms, however, it is not absurd if we postulate a spacetime in which events can be connected through the extra dimension (like dots that are separated on a sheet of paper in 2D can be connected by folding the paper in 3D).

  21. deontologistics Says:

    I think you still haven’t grasped precisely the kind of explanatory redundancy involved here. Yes, we can ignore the existence of a pebble, or my left foot, or any other specific entity for that matter, in the context of giving explanations of why other particular things are the way they are, insofar as the former things have no real causal efficacy in these cases. If we’re arguing about why the stock market collapsed on a certain day, we can probably exclude the distributions of pebbles on beaches across the world as a relevant factor, even if they technically do have some minor interactions with things like stock brokers and investors (be it simply through exerting small gravitational pulls upon them). We can even ignore the existence of pebbles as such in relation to explanations of general phenomena, such as the geological processes that form of igneous rock.

    The point is that these facts can be ignored because they are irrelevant to the particular naturalistic explanations we are attempting. This does not mean that either the fact of the existence of a particular pebble or the fact of the existence of pebbles in general are explanatorily redundant, because there are other questions for which they will be relevant, indeed, questions which call for explanations that are impossible without them.

    The redundancy claim I am making about the metaphysically weighted notion of ‘experience’ that you and others advocate is that it is both unnecessary for all naturalistic explanations (i.e., causal explanations), and for all epistemological explanations. I think you can probably assent to the former, but that you’d deny the latter. However, unless you can poke holes within the broadly Sellarsian account of observation I’ve provided, I’ve got a viable way of explaining all of the relevant epistemological phenomena without appeal to ‘experience’. This is why it is unnecessary, and thereby why it is redundant.

    Now, you might still want to claim that we are not obligated to deny the existence or metaphysical status of that which is explanatorily redundant. Against this I’ve got three responses:-

    1) Even if this is the case, and this does not provide a good reason to deny ‘experience’, it doesn’t mean that there is any corresponding good reason for me to accept it. I can still refuse to assent to experience, unless you can provide additional good reasons as to why I need to.

    2) Nonetheless, Occam’s razor does seem to be a valid principle. It seems that ‘experiences’ are in precisely the same position as ‘God’ and ‘angels’ here, in that despite the fact that they are explanatorily redundant in precisely the same sense, some people still bring them in in order to explain particular natural and epistemological phenomena (e.g., miracles and revelation). Only a principle like Occam’s razor can allow us to eliminate such superfluous entities, but if we accept this principle, then we’ve got to throw out ‘experience’ and ‘experiences’ too.

    3) Funnily enough, if we accept the Sellarsian account of observation (which so far you haven’t provided any good arguments against), then the fact that ‘experience’ is causally inefficacious implies somewhat paradoxically that it can’t be observed. The sense in which it can’t be observed is not just an ordinary ‘first person’ sense, but the broader sense which includes full blown scientific experimental observation. Even electrons and stranger particles can be observed in this wider sense, insofar as they have causal effects which can be bound up within some suitably defined observational apparatus (in relation to which we can ascribe testimonial authority). This provides even better reasons to think that it is nothing real.

    Finally, I can accept your point about differentiating between time as a dimension and the source of change. There’s some interesting work to be done there. I was really aiming at those philosophers who use dimensional accounts of time to deny the reality of change. There are plenty of interesting debates to be had here, and you’re obviously well informed about many of these issues. I simply think that you’d be better of talking about time itself, rather than our experience of time, as the way you are approaching the latter is, in my opinion, never going to tell us anything interesting about either the metaphysics of time, the epistemological nature of thought about the world, or about the causal mechanisms underlying the phenomenological character of our experience (in the non-metaphysical sense) of time.

  22. My argument above was based on the fact that ‘experience’ has a form like any other observable phenomenon. You seem to be discounting this on the basis that this form does not do anything. But does any form do anything? Take a gas molecule speeding through space, it is becoming a 4D form but what does this form do? It is only the future form of the molecule that might be said to ‘do’ anything but by then whatever it does has been done. The gas molecule is privileged in your account of the world because you know what it might do. The form of experience, although clearly similar to that of the gas molecule, is rejected because we don’t know what it might do. But in both cases, in the case of the molecule or of experience, the form is not causally efficacious. But then again nothing can, given our present knowledge, be said to be ‘ causally efficacious’.

    This concept of “causal efficacy” involves changes in the position of objects (state changes). If I could explain why an object goes from one state to another I might agree with your analysis however, at the moment all that I (or anyone) knows about this matter is that a set of objects can change from one configuration to another. Certain features of the state of a system over a period of time can be used to predict future states but these predictions are empirical – we do not know exactly why change happens. So you seem to be arguing that you will only believe in phenomena that fit with known theories of change of state over time even though you cannot say how these changes occur. If you can tell me how a collection of objects arranged in space actually becomes a collection with a different arrangement I will be most interested.

    (Expansion of gases – just a summary of previous experience that close arrangements of objects become loose arrangements. Dynamics – just a summary of the energy changes that occur when moving from one spacetime manifold to another but what is an energy change, what is mass? Etc. All our theories are just summaries of previous experience combined with a trust in repetition).

  23. deontologistics Says:

    I find your argument somewhat perverse I’m afraid. Bare in mind that I’ve said that there is are non-causal forms of explanation, or which epistemological and metaphysical explanation are species. I’ve tried to show that your notion of ‘experience’, regardless of whether it’s understood as a form or otherwise, is explanatorily redundant in a broad sense, not only because it can play no role in all causal explanations, but because it is unnecessary in epistemology and metaphysics as well. It’s only useful in metaphysics for explaining itself, and this is pointless.

    I only introduced the notion of causal efficacy to show the disanalogy between ‘experience’ and the pebble that undermines your argument from analogy, insofar as the only kinds of explanation a particular pebble can be involved in are causal one’s. As such, your doubts about causality don’t affect the argument, insofar as they undermine the possibility of pebbles being involved in any kind of explanation, and thus undermines the analogy anyway.

    With regard to your remarks about ‘form’, all I can say is that such ‘forms’ are conceptual frameworks in terms of which we understand certain things. The form of ‘experience’ that you seem to be angling for, which tries to describe the a priori structure of events within time-space, is just a very general conceptual framework (it’s important to remember here that I hold that mathematics is conceptual, rather than intuitive). I see no reason to interpret the framework as referring to some special field of ‘experience’ rather than referring to the things themselves. Why not just talk about the metaphysics of events within time-space, and leave all this superfluous phenomenology behind?

  24. You say “I see no reason to interpret the framework as referring to some special field of ‘experience’ rather than referring to the things themselves”. I am happy to accept this proposition as a working hypothesis.

    The “referring to” is an interesting caveat. Perhaps if I take the most simple case of “referring” in the form of a Turing Machine with a one dimensional tape, I can then create a “concept” by rigging up a sensory device and arranging for some holes on the tape to “refer to” the target of the sensory device. When the holes are read the sensory device senses a particular object (yields an output) and a short Turing computation relates the output of the device back to the holes on the tape that directed the device. I could also produce this “concept” using language and sense organs in my body but neurophysiology demonstrates that what happens in my brain is, in essence, very similar to what happens in the Turing Machine.

    I cannot conceive of a “referring to a thing” that is simpler than this relating of information in a Turing Machine. If we simplify further, for instance by having no comparison step or no set of holes to store the related information then there is no “reference”. We cannot compute in zero dimensions (ie: using marks of no extent because then there are no marks).

    This conceptual engine is a prime case of indirect perception: a store of marks is compared with a measurement. The thing “in itself” does not even need to enter the concept directly because the measuring device might use the pattern of light that is obscured by the thing, an absence of data, to infer the presence of the thing.

    Perhaps I have misunderstood what you said about “referring” and “things in themselves” and your “concepts” are non-computational, if so please explain a non-computational concept. On the other hand, if you accept a Turing Machine with a one dimensional tape then why not a device with a 4 dimensional set of marks?

  25. […] is understood as derivative upon the more primitive phenomenological content of experience (see here and here). Nonetheless, on this account, both phenomenological content and propositional content […]

  26. […] That it must be requires some further justification that I think Graham has yet to provide (see here), especially when there are seemingly viable non-metaphysical approaches (such as my own, I would […]

  27. […] Dispositions (RDRDs)] (as modified slightly by Brandom) and the account of looks talk [see here], but I am unmoved by the grain argument, which seems to provide most of the motivation for his […]

  28. science beakers

    Phenomenology, Discourse and their Objects | Deontologistics

  29. “I don’t think that the real properties of entities can be experienced. For me there is an absolute gap between real properties and experienced properties.”

    A simple illustration based on the above quote from Graham’s post:

    If I throw a rock at your forehead, and it hits your forehead directly, causing “x” amount of pain (experience) and whatever physical effects (bleeding, just a scratch etc.) … how does this illustration fit with both yours and Graham’s ideas?

    I ask because at this particular moment, I think Graham’s idea above is completely ridiculous. The “real” property of the rock, its hardness, IS experienced by you (pain, bleeding, etc.) if I throw that rock at your forehead.

    To me, no gap between real and experienced properties of the rock exist.

    I’m reading your book right now, and I am very interested in this.

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