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«DON’T PANIC: Tye’s intentionalist theory of consciousness* Alex Byrne, MIT Consciousness, Color, and Content is a significant contribution to our ...»

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Although this may be an insight, it is not of much help in furthering reductive or physicalistic ambitions. However, if one adopts some sort of Humean bundle-theory of the self, as I suspect Tye tacitly does, then the problematic notion of the conscious subject herself may be cashed out in terms of certain privileged mental states.

Specifically, in Tye’s theory, it’s seeming to the subject that p is reduced to the self-free fact that a state with the content that p “stands ready and available to make a direct impact on beliefs/desires”. As we have seen, this does not seem to work. But the fundamental problem is with Tye’s reductive ambitions, not with the basic insight about blindsight.

Second, N. Here Tye’s insight is that a theory of consciousness does need a special kind of content. Nonconceptual content, though, is the wrong candidate. It is supposed to be content that cannot be believed (and therefore cannot be linguistically expressed). What we want instead is content that can be believed, but that cannot be linguistically expressed. (See again the discussion of Heck in section 6.2.) I shall now outline an argument for this claim, based on Jackson’s (1982) knowledge argument together with a perceptive remark of Lewis’s.36 Assume, first, that 36 For another way of approaching the same conclusion, see Byrne forthcoming; an important related

–  –  –

knowing what it’s like to enjoy an experience is propositional knowledge.37 When blackand-white Mary sees a ripe tomato for the first time, and thereby comes to know what it’s like to see red, she comes to know some proposition. If one were forced to choose a sentence to express this proposition, a plausible candidate would be ‘Seeing red is like this’, where we imagine Mary uttering this sentence while looking at a tomato. So, assuming for the moment that the proposition Mary learns is linguistically expressible,

we may write it thus:

–  –  –

Essentially the same piece of knowledge can be put in helpful jargon as follows:

(M2) Having an experience that represents objects as red is like this.

For an intentionalist like Tye, Mary comes to know M2, not by directly introspecting her experience, but by attending to the colors in the scene before her eyes: “Our attention goes outside in the visual case, for example, not to the experience inside our heads. We attend to one thing—the external surface and qualities—and yet thereby we are aware of something else, the ‘feel’ of our experience” (2000, 51-2).38 In other words, Mary is in a

position to know M2 once she knows:

(M3) An experience that represents objects as red represents them like this.

37 See, for example, Lycan 1996, ch. 5; a closely related claim, that “knowing how” is a species of “knowing that”, is argued for in Stanley and Williamson 2001. Tye himself holds that “knowing what it is like is best captured by a disjunction of introspective knowing-that and knowing-how” (2000, 16).

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Note that M 3 is a proposition that specifies the distinctive way red objects are represented in visual experience; that is, it specifies the content distinctive of experiences as of red objects. (Of course, an anti-intentionalist would deny that knowing M3 puts Mary in a position to know what it’s like to see red.) Now to Lewis’s perceptive remark: “Our intuitive starting point wasn’t just that physics lessons couldn’t help the inexperienced to know what it’s like. It was that lessons couldn’t help” (1988, 281). Therefore, since knowing M3 would help imprisoned Mary to know what it’s like, the proposition M3 cannot be taught by a lesson.

But what is a “lesson”? In one sense, showing Mary a ripe tomato is giving her a lesson, but obviously that is not what Lewis means. Instead, it’s clear that he means linguistic lessons. No matter how many books imprisoned Mary reads, and lectures she hears, she won’t come to know what it’s like to see red. And this is not because there are some sentences that Mary can’t understand. Although she hasn’t had the experience of seeing red objects, that does not prevent her from understanding any linguistic expression (so, for example, she can understand the word ‘red’ while imprisoned). Of course, there will be uses of demonstratives that could not occur in lessons Mary has while imprisoned, in particular an utterance of ‘An experience as of red objects represents them like this’ in the presence of a tomato. And such an utterance of that sentence expresses—we have been supposing—the proposition M3. But this does not mean that the proposition M3—if it really is expressed by that sentence—could not be taught to imprisoned Mary.

Plausibly, any proposition expressed using a demonstrative could be expressed in a demonstrative-free way: for example, the proposition expressed by ‘That man is drinking a martini’ (pointing at Tye) is arguably expressed by the demonstrative-free sentence ‘Tye is drinking a martini’. Assume this is correct. Then, if M3 really is expressed by an

–  –  –

this’, we could teach M3 to imprisoned Mary: no demonstration of ripe tomatoes is needed.

All the premises are now in place (albeit with minimal defense). If M3 can be linguistically expressed, then Mary can know M3 while imprisoned, and thereby know what seeing red is like. But she can’t know this while imprisoned. Therefore M3 can’t be linguistically expressed. Our supposition that M 3 is expressible using a demonstrative is a ladder that must be kicked away: in using a demonstrative, we were trying to say what can’t be said. We can, however, communicate or convey M3, by uttering the sentence ‘An experience that represents objects as red represents them like this’ in the presence of a ripe tomato; at least, M3 can be communicated in this way to those who have the appropriate sort of experience. (And, I presume, I have succeeded in communicating M3 to you.) For familiar Gricean reasons, a proposition can be communicated by uttering a sentence in a context, even if the proposition is not the semantic content of that sentence relative to that context. Hence, it doesn’t follow from the fact that M3 can be communicated by uttering a sentence in a context, that M3 is the semantic content of that sentence relative to that context; neither does it follow that M3 is the semantic content of some sentence.39 In other words: knowing linguistically expressible propositions is not sufficient for knowing what it’s like, but knowing propositions that specify the content of perception is. Hence, the content of perception cannot be completely expressed in language. The limits of my language aren’t the limits of my world, after all.





39 What is the proposition expressed by ‘An experience as of red objects represents them like this’ (uttered

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Assuming that the gaps in this argument can be filled, we need a positive account of both linguistic and perceptual content. And here Peacocke’s work on nonconceptual content at least provides a model of how to proceed.

That completes our investigation of the PANIC theory; I hope the theory’s virtues, and the difficulty of the problems it sets out to solve, were exhibited along the way. The provisional conclusion is that ingredient X is a certain kind of non-linguistic content plus the subject of experience. This does not deserve to be called a theory of phenomenal consciousness—but perhaps it is a signpost pointing in the right direction.

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Lycan, W. G. 1996. Consciousness and Experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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