Presentation on theme: "The Phenomenal Thought Controversy A critique of Prinz Lecture 5 Charles Siewert Rice University"— Presentation transcript:
The Phenomenal Thought Controversy A critique of Prinz Lecture 5 Charles Siewert Rice University email@example.com
The controversy, roughly speaking: how cognitively rich is consciousness? On exclusive (“restrictive,” “conservative”) views: phenomenal consciousness is exclusively/purely sensory. Phenomenal character is “exhausted by” that which belongs to purely sensory states. On inclusive (“liberal,” “expansionist”) views: phenomenal consciousness is not restricted to/exhausted by what is merely sensory, but includes conceptual—not just imagistic— thought.
What’s at stake? Some issues affected by stance on phenomenal thought How to explain consciousness. Many prominent accounts are sensory- exclusivist theories (Tye, Prinz, Carruthers, Rosenthal, Dretske, Hill) Role of consciousness in introspective self-knowledge. Can it figure in accounts of knowing both sense-experience and thought? Role of first-person reflection in philosophical argument about consciousness. What does apparent disagreement here imply? Does it reveal some defect in “introspection”? Does it reflect resistance to consensus-building typical of philosophy? Place of consciousness in the mind generally. Does having a mind (or— perhaps—having “original intentionality”) depend (or is it somehow grounded in) consciousness? Place of consciousness in our values and concerns. Relevance limited to the kind of value and concern we should give to unreasoning creatures?
Basic Terminology Conceptual Activity: is or can be expressed in language, and requires person-level capacities for voluntarily making or following inferences, classifications and analogies. Sensory features: found in the activity of various standardly recognized perceptual modalities along with bodily feelings of pain and pleasure, cold and warmth and kindred sensations plus, whatever analogs of these there might be in imagery. Merely sensory features: sensory features whose possession at a time is insufficient for the occurrence of conceptual activity at that time. Phenomenal feature: a feature there is essentially and nonderivatively something it’s like for one to have. There is something it’s like for one to have a feature: it is suited for one to claim or desire a subjective, nontheoretical knowledge of what feature it is. Phenomenally conscious state: instance of a phenomenal feature. Phenomenal character: two conscious states differ in phenomenal character when they differ with respect to what it is essentially and nonderivatively like for one to be in them.
How I frame the issue: the crucial questions to ask To set up the issue, first observe: as we speak and read and listen to speech, there is occurrent, on-going understanding, varying ways of understanding what is said, ways of thinking about what is spoken of. These are subjectively discernible. They are not merely sensory features, since they entail conceptual activity. To address the issue, ask: The question of Reducibility. Is what it’s actually like to occurrently think and understand just what it would be like to have only certain concomitant merely sensory features, in the absence of any thought/understanding? No? –Irreduciblity, then. The question of Variation. Do the subjectively discernible differences in ways of thinking and understanding constitute differences in what it is like for us to have the experience of thought and understanding we do? Yes? –Variation, then.
How I frame this issue Irreducibility + Variation Inclusivism This is my basic “phenomenal thought thesis”—position on what has come to be called “cognitive phenomenology”
One of my arguments for the phenomenality of thought Compare: (a)what it’s like for you to read a passage without understanding, and (b)what it’s like to re-read it, and follow the meaning. Ask: in all such cases, can you identify merely sensory features you have, which: – you could have in the total absence of understanding the text, such that – what it would be like for you to have just those by themselves is the same as what (b) is actually like for you? If no, then IRREDUCIBILITY.
One of my arguments for the phenomenality of thought Now ask: can you independently vary these subjectively discernible differences? (a)the not-merely-sensory phenomenal differences in your experience of understanding (b)your ways of occurrently understanding the words. Either one or both of these are true: 1. in concrete cases, you find no clear conception of what it would be like for (a) and (b) to vary independently 1. if (b) type differences are entirely excluded from the phenomenal differences, then what it is like to read comprehendingly would be epistemically irrelevant. But it isn’t: we know what we are taking the words to mean, only if our experience has this phenomenal character; when it lacks this, we don’t. If either (1) or (2) holds, then subjectively discernible variation in occurrent understanding should be included in phenomenal variation. Therefore, VARIATION.
Why disagreement on “cognitive phenomenology”? Schwitzgebel’s answer Schwitzgebel (pp. 128-9): “…the introspection of current conscious experience is supposed to be easy, right?... If introspection can guide us in some matters…shouldn’t we reach agreement about the existence or absence of a phenomenology of thought as easily and straightforwardly as we reach agreement about the presence of the table?... The question is, was there something further in your experience, something besides the imagery, something that might qualify as a distinctive phenomenology of thinking?... Is it as obvious as that your desk has drawers…? Must disagreements about such matters be merely linguistic or about philosophical abstracta? Or, as I think, might people genuinely misjudge even this very basic, absolutely fundamental and pervasive aspect of their conscious experience, even after putting their best introspective resources to work?
I disagree with Schwitzgebel about the nature of the disagreement It is not straightforward what the questions are, what the implications of a stance on the issue are. I think ES poses the issue in a way that disguises this. (“Was there something further…?”) There are at least two issues hidden in this questions: 1.Was there something more to your thinking than any “visual or auditory imagery” you may have had”? 2.If so, is that “something more” to thinking something “in your experience”? Is it “phenomenological” in the same way as imagery by itself is? Or is the properly phenomenological exhausted by the imagery, as distinct from the thinking? Both questions involve “abstract” philosophical concerns and distinctions (What is the difference between mere imagery and thinking? What is it for something to be phenomenological, and what would it mean for only the imagery to belong to this category? Question (1) is, nowadays, relatively uncontroversially answered yes, by those who try to sort through what is meant. Question (2), I think, is more the focus of controversy.
The Question of Thought’s Phenomenality The issue both involve abstract analysis, and call for use of “introspection” (first-person reflection). These are not mutually exclusive alternatives. It’s wrong to think that if first-person reflection on experience plays a legitimate role here (if it “can guide us”), it should give answers as “easily and straightforwardly”.
We have trouble finding agreement because the issue is philosophical To put our “best introspective resources to work” in these cases is to compose and artfully combine questions directly about experience, with clarification of relevant distinctions, implications of claims, and organize all of this properly into argument. It is to do “analytic phenomenology.” Doing this kind of “introspection” well is not at all “straightforward” or “easy”—and whether it has been done well (or well enough) is always an open question. This seems to be the lot of philosophy.
Philosophical roots of disagreements over “cognitive phenomenology” A big part of this: lack of shared assumptions: – about what each view is committed to. – about what questions you ask to resolve the issue. So: it’s decidedly NOT the case that opposed parties ask just the same questions, and get different “introspective” verdicts. Nor are they simply offering different explanations of the same introspective data.
Questions some exclusivists ask, and consider critical Does verbalized thought possess a phenomenal character which can be found apart from the sensory and imagery experience of utterance, in the same way that the phenomenal character of vision can be found apart from that of hearing? (Prinz) Does belief or thought have “sensed qualities” or a special “feel”? (Kim, Nichols & Stich, Prinz) Is there phenomenal consciousness when you’re thinking, even though there’s no experience? (Tye) If you “strip away” all sensory experience and imagery from an episode of thought, is there clearly some remaining purely cognitive phenomenal character that was there all along, which you can have all by itself? (Tye) When speakers of Mandarin and English express their thoughts intertranslatably, is there some component of the phenomenal character of their states which is just the same for each? (Tye)
However, on my (inclusivist) view while one can understand why some regard these as the right questions to ask they are poor, misleading, prejudicial ways of trying to address the issue. For inclusivism does not require positive answers to any of these questions.
Consider Prinz “For every vehicle with [qualitative, phenomenal] character, there could be a qualitatively identical vehicle that has only sensory content.” (176) Cognitive states do not have “phenomenal qualities that differ from every possible state that has purely sensory content” (181) “Concepts can be conscious” but it’s not true that “conceptually generated images are qualitatively different from purely sensory images.” (181) COMMENTS: These frame the issue adequately, only if (i)they commit him to answering yes to my ‘reducibility’ question, and (ii)he has some satisfactory account of “purely” (“only”) “sensory content.”
Does Prinz pose the issue satisfactorily? COMMENTS: It seems Prinz is committed to “reducibility.” But he never explicitly poses the reducibility question. It’s unclear whether his own concrete first-person reflection returns a positive answer to it, or whether he thinks this matters. Prinz’s explanation of what he means by “purely sensory content” is not satisfactory. He says: Content is sensory “just in case that vehicle represents some aspect of appearance.” (175) But the notion of ‘appearance’ does not clearly exclude conceptual activity (nor does the notion of properties whose presence is “distinguishable by the senses”). Plus: Prinz also takes the issue to turn on questions I regard as prejudicial or based on false assumptions.
Prinz on Siewert’s examples of phenomenal difference irreducible to purely sensory differences: “These …fail because they do not RULE OUT THE POSSIBILITY of changes in non-verbal imagery…” (my emphasis) “Expansionists face the difficult challenge of having to find cases in which the phenomenal character of a thought transcends both of these rich sources”: verbal and non-verbal imagery. (189)
“Expansionists” “MAY be subject to a family of introspective illusions.” “When Siewert says that the experience of a word changes when we shift interpretations, he MAY be mistaking one kind of experience (associated imagery) for another (alleged cognitive phenomenology).”
Plus: Siewert is cheating! “[Siewert says] the proponent…need not deny that all conscious thoughts have imagistic components…” “[However] the components of sensory consciousness can be experienced in isolation… no reason to suppose they are different...[i.e., there’s no reason to suppose the components of cognitive consciousness (if real) couldn’t be experienced in isolation)] [Siewert’s move is] ad hoc.” (193)
My response: Prinz puts an absurd burden of proof on me Contra Prinz, I do NOT have to “rule out the possibility” that when: there is a difference in what it’s like for me (in re- reading, sudden realization, interpretive switch cases) without any introspectively evident imagery change, there may then be a corresponding introspectively hidden change in merely sensory imagery.
No, all I need is to find: cases of such experiential “what it’s like” differences where I have no justification for holding there is in fact: – a corresponding, introspectively hidden imagery change, – such that what it would have been like for me to undergo that imagery change when conceptual thought/understanding are stripped away = what it was actually like to have the experience with understanding.
A recent example: ‘Assad’s killers’ Distractedly, I heard on the radio the ambiguous phrase “Assad’s killers”: interpretive switch. There was a change in what it was like for me—to hear the phrase one way, then to realize it had a different meaning.
A recent example: ‘Assad’s killers’ Prinz would say (?)—”As this switch happened, Siewert, unbeknownst to himself, may have first very quickly visually imagined some people killing a man, and then: a man ordering others to go kill someone. Or else, as Siewert heard the phrase ‘Assad’s killers’, he may have—unintrospectibly—quickly imagined whispering to himself the words: ‘People who killed Assad’ and then immediately likewise imagined the words, ‘People Assad had kill for him’.”
Prinz’s unreasonable demands I do not really have to “rule out the possibility” that I formed such images, while introspectively oblivious to their occurrence? No—I just need lack of a good reason to think both: (a)That when I introspectively deny such imagery experience I am in fact mistaken, and (b)That what it would have been like for me to form such images meaninglessly, with the interpretation stripped off, is just what it was actually like for me to experience the radio report.
On Prinz’s analogy Is it really unreasonable and ad hoc for me to think the following are indeed disanalogous? – The relationship of visual to aural experience. – The relationship of experienced verbalization to experienced thought
Some reasonable, not ad hoc disanalogies a) TRY to think about something, but without using words or images at all. I can’t— I don’t know how to try to think totally wordlessly or imagelessly. (Sudden unverbalized, unimaged thought is real, but not the result of trying to think an unverbalized, unimaged thought.) b) If I CAN’T SAY OR IMAGE what I just thought, I don’t KNOW that I thought it. c) I consciously think BY speaking and imagining things. Now compare with the sensory modalities case (vision and audition, say): a)TRY to look at something without listening to it. Easy! If it’s silent, or can be seen but not heard. b)If I saw it but CAN’T HEAR it, can I KNOW I saw it? Yes, of course. c)I don’t see BY hearing things. That doesn’t even make sense.
I’m not “cheating”! Because of these (and perhaps other) disanalogies, it is simply not “ad hoc” to say: the experience of thinking is not separable from experienced verbalization, in the way vision and hearing experience are separable. The reasons why these are disanalogous are perfectly compatible with saying that what it’s like to think is not exhausted by what it’s like to experience meaningless words and images.
Conclusions Lack of agreement over “cognitive phenomenology” is NOT due to the fact that introspection returns conflicting answers to the very same questions. It’s not even due only to differing proposed explanations of agreed- upon data. It has a lot to do with a significant and complicated lack of shared assumptions about what each side is committed to, and what questions are crucial to addressing the issues, and where the burden of proof falls. (Common in philosophical disagreements?) A strong case can be made in favor of inclusivism based on a defense of my assumptions, plus a critique of those of Prinz, and others. If consensus is unlikely still, that’s for the same reasons philosophical consensus is elusive.