Demonstrative Content and the Experience of Properties

Dialectica 66 (4):489-515 (2012)
John McDowell (in Mind and World) and Bill Brewer (in Perception and Reason) argue that the content of our perceptual experience is conceptual in the following sense. It is of the type of content that could be the content of a judgement – that is, a content which results from the actualization of two (or more) conceptual abilities. Specifically, they suggest that the conceptual abilities actualized in experience are demonstrative abilities, and thus the resulting content is of the type we may express by means of sentences of the form ‘this is thus’. In this paper I argue that we cannot construe experiential contents in this way. I first outline a construal of the ability to think about a thing being thus which is based on Brewer's discussion of conceptual experiential contents, and which I take to be the best construal available to the conceptualist. I then show that on this construal the demonstrative abilities that account for our experience of properties require intentional focused attention to the relevant properties. The conceptualist is thus committed to holding that we experience only the properties we are intentionally attending to, and I argue that this is implausible. The interest in examining Brewer's conceptualist construal of experiential content and pointing out its shortcoming is not limited merely to an interest in whether there is a workable conceptualist account of experiential content. I suggest that certain aspects of Brewer's construal capture important (and often neglected) aspects of our perceptual experience, and that understanding why the account fails can contribute to our understanding of both experiential content and demonstrative thought
Keywords Conceptual and Nonconceptual Content  Demonstrative content  Experience of properties  visual attention
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DOI 10.1111/1746-8361.12005
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John McDowell (1994). Mind and World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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