Phenomenal Holism

According to proponents of ‘phenomenal holism’, the intrinsic characteristics of the parts of unified conscious states are dependent to some degree on the characteristics of the wholes to which they belong. Although the doctrine can easily seem obscure or implausible, there are eminent philosophers who have defended it, amongst them Timothy Sprigge. In Stream of Consciousness (2000) I found Sprigge’s case for phenomenal holism problematic on several counts; in this paper I re-assess some of these criticisms. Recent experimental work suggests cross-modal perceptual interference may be far more prevalent than expected. I argue that although these results do lend support to phenomenal holism in one of its guises, they do not support the strong form of holism espoused by Sprigge. I then move on to consider the relevance and impact of certain gestalt-related considerations, and argue that these considerations at best establish that the stronger form of holism applies to some parts of some experiential states, but not to all parts of all states, as Sprigge claims. I then consider a more promising way forward for anyone who wishes to defend an across-the-board holism of the strong variety, arguing that what is required is a form of phenomenal interdependence that is rooted solely in phenomenal unity. I conclude by outlining a case for thinking that an interdependence of this sort is a quite general feature of unified conscious states
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DOI 10.1017/S135824611000007X
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References found in this work BETA
Alex Byrne (2009). Experience and Content. Philosophical Quarterly 59 (236):429-451.
Adam Pautz (2009). What Are the Contents of Experiences? Philosophical Quarterly 59 (236):483-507.
Susanna Siegel (2009). The Visual Experience of Causation. Philosophical Quarterly 59 (236):519-540.

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