Heterophenomenology versus critical phenomenology

Abstract
Following an on-line dialogue with Dennett (Velmans, 2001) this paper examines the similarities and differences between heterophenomenology (HP) and critical phenomenology (CP), two competing accounts of the way that conscious phenomenology should be, and normally is incorporated into psychology and related sciences. Dennett’s heterophenomenology includes subjective reports of conscious experiences, but according to Dennett, first person conscious phenomenena in the form of “qualia” such as hardness, redness, itchiness etc. have no real existence. Consequently, subjective reports about such qualia should be understood as prescientific attempts to make sense of brain functioning that can be entirely understood in third person terms. I trace the history of this position in behaviourism (Watson, Skinner and Ryle) and early forms of physicalism and functionalism (Armstrong), and summarise some of the difficulties of this view. Critical phenomenology also includes a conventional, third person, scientific investigation of brain and behaviour that includes subjects’ reports of what they experience. CP is also cautious about the accuracy or completeness of subjective reports. However, unlike HP, CP does not assume that subjects are necessarily deluded about their experiences or doubt that these experiences can have real qualities that can, in principle, be described. Such experienced qualities cannot be exhaustively reduced to third-person accounts of brain and behaviour. CP is also reflexive, in it assumes experimenters to have first-person experiences that they can describe much as their subjects do. And crucially, experimenter’s third-person reports of others are based, in the first instance, on their own first-person experiences. CP is commonplace in psychological science, and given that it conforms both to scientific practice and common sense, I argue that there is little to recommend HP other than an attempt to shore up a counterintuitive, reductive philosophy of mind.
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