Phenomenalism

Edited by Michael Pelczar (National University of Singapore)
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Summary

Phenomenalism is the view that physical reality is ultimately nothing more than a potential for conscious experience. Classically, the view is defined in terms of “sensation-conditionals”: counterfactual conditionals to the effect that experiences with certain phenomenal properties (qualia) would occur, if experiences with certain other qualia were to occur. Classic phenomenalism is a combination of two claims: (1) that for every physical state of affairs, there is some conjunction of sensation-conditionals whose truth logically entails the existence of that state of affairs, and, (2) that in order for a physical state of affairs to exist, it’s unnecessary for there to be anything (monads, God, noumena, or whatever) that makes the relevant sensation-conditionals true. It is the second claim that distinguishes phenomenalism from canonical idealism. 

Influential objections to (1) include (a) that the claimed entailment only seems to hold if the phenomenalist cheats by using conditionals whose antecedents refer to physical features of observers and their environments, (b) that the claimed entailment only seems to hold if the phenomenalist cheats by using conditionals that refer to physical time and space, (c) that the claimed entailment fails as a reduction, since we have to use physical vocabulary to characterize the relevant qualia, and, (d) that it’s impossible to give a plausible phenomenological analysis of imperceptible physical entities (like electrons).

Influential objections to (2) include (e) that the states of affairs described by counterfactual conditionals can’t be fundamental states of affairs, but must have some categorical basis, (f) that if nothing makes sensation-conditionals true, the most that their truth entails is the existence of a convincing appearance of physical reality, and, (g) that we have to posit truth-makers for sensation-conditionals, in order to account for the non-chaotic character of our experience. 

Key works Chapters 11 and 12 of Mill 1865 contain the original statement of the phenomenalist position. The first attempt to develop phenomenalism in detail is Carnap 1928 (for subsequent attempts, see Price 1932, Chapter 8 of Lewis 1946, and Pelczar 2015). Other sympathetic discussions include Ayer 1946 and Chapters 5 and 6 of Fumerton 1985. Important critical discussions include Chisholm 1948 (who raises objection [a]), Chapters 5 and 6 of Armstrong 1961 (who raises objections [b], [d], and [e]), Chapter 3 of Sellars 1963 (who raises objections [a], [b], and [c]), Chapter 2 of Smart 1963 (who raises objections [a], [d], [e], and [g]), and Mackie 1969 (who raises objections [f] and [g]).
Introductions Richard Fumerton's entry for phenomenalism in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a good place to start (for a more detailed discussion along the same lines, see Chapters 5 and 6 of Fumerton 1985). Armstrong 1961 and Smart 1963 summarize most of the main objections to phenomenalism in a concise and accessible way. 
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  1. added 2020-04-16
    Defending Phenomenalism.Michael Pelczar - 2019 - Philosophical Quarterly 69 (276):574-597.
    According to phenomenalism, physical things are a certain kind of possibility for experience. This paper clarifies the phenomenalist position and addresses some main objections to it, with the aim of showing that phenomenalism is a live option that merits a place alongside dualism and materialism in contemporary metaphysical debate.
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  2. added 2020-04-16
    Replies.Michael Pelczar - 2016 - Analysis 76 (4):479-501.
  3. added 2020-04-16
    Summary.Michael Pelczar - 2016 - Analysis 76 (4):449-453.
  4. added 2020-02-25
    The Mirrors of Consciousness.Steve Solodoff - manuscript
    This manuscript puts forth the contention that our consciousness resembles and reflects an all-pervading universal consciousness that was born from the manifestation of energy as the monadic agent of our universe. It relates that in the beginning, when energy kinetically came into being, it created, or distributed itself, into three derivative dimensions; that of space-time, materiality and consciousness. The definition of consciousness herein is that it is constituted from phenomenal attributes that are inherent within space, time and materiality (the other (...)
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  5. added 2019-10-07
    The Logic of Leibniz’s Borrowed Reality Argument.Stephen Puryear - 2020 - Philosophical Quarterly 70 (279):350-370.
    Leibniz argues that there must be a fundamental level of simple substances because composites borrow their reality from their constituents and not all reality can be borrowed. I contend that the underlying logic of this ‘borrowed reality argument’ has been misunderstood, particularly the rationale for the key premise that not all reality can be borrowed. Contrary to what has been suggested, the rationale turns neither on the alleged viciousness of an unending regress of reality borrowers nor on the Principle of (...)
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  6. added 2019-10-03
    Consciousness and Causal Emergence: Śāntarakṣita Against Physicalism.Christian Coseru - 2017 - In Jonardon Ganeri (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Indian Philosophy. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 360–378.
    In challenging the physicalist conception of consciousness advanced by Cārvāka materialists such as Bṛhaspati, the Buddhist philosopher Śāntarakṣita addresses a series of key issues about the nature of causality and the basis of cognition. This chapter considers whether causal accounts of generation for material bodies are adequate in explaining how conscious awareness comes to have the structural features and phenomenal properties that it does. Arguments against reductive physicalism, it is claimed, can benefit from an understanding of the structure of phenomenal (...)
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  7. added 2019-09-09
    Impoverished or Rich Consciousness Outside Attentional Focus: Recent Data Tip the Balance for Overflow.Zohar Z. Bronfman, Hilla Jacobson & Marius Usher - 2019 - Mind and Language 34 (4):423-444.
    Mind &Language, Volume 34, Issue 4, Page 423-444, September 2019.
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  8. added 2019-06-06
    Philosophy and Scientific Realism.J. J. C. Smart - 1963 - Routledge.
    Originally published in 1963. In an introductory chapter the author argues that philosophy ought to be more than the art of clarifying thought and that it should concern itself with outlining a scientifically plausible world view. Early chapters deal with phenomenalism and the reality of theoretical entities, and with the relation between the physical and biological sciences. Free will, issues of time and space and man’s place in nature are covered in later chapters.
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  9. added 2019-06-06
    The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, Lectures 1-2.Bertrand Russell - 1918 - The Monist 28 (4):495-527.
  10. added 2019-06-06
    A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning Into Moral Subjects.David Hume & D. G. C. Macnabb (eds.) - 1738 - Collins.
    A Treatise of Human Nature, David Hume's comprehensive attempt to base philosophy on a new, observationally grounded study of human nature, is one of the most important texts in Western philosophy. It is also the focal point of current attempts to understand 18th-century western philosophy. The Treatise addresses many of the most fundamental philosophical issues: causation, existence, freedom and necessity, and morality. The volume also includes Humes own abstract of the Treatise, a substantial introduction, extensive annotations, a glossary, a comprehensive (...)
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  11. added 2018-10-10
    Ontological Possibilities in Phenomenology: The Dyad and the One.Robert Sokolowski - 1976 - Review of Metaphysics 29 (4):691 - 701.
    I will survey a number of ways in which presence and absence are described in Husserl’s philosophy. Some of them appear in the Logical Investigations, Husserl’s first major philosophical work, and they provide the stimulus and motif that later develop into his full phenomenology. In the Investigations Husserl examines signs, images, words, and perceptions, and in each of these a special play of presence and absence takes place.
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  12. added 2018-10-09
    On Ceasing to Exist.Leonard Linsky - 1960 - Mind 69 (274):249-250.
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  13. added 2018-10-08
    Materialism.Richard H. Green - 2001 - International Studies in Philosophy 33 (4):148-149.
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  14. added 2018-10-08
    Existence, Knowing, and the Problem of Systems: A Phenomenological Critique of the Epistemology and Metaphysics of C. I. Lewis. [REVIEW]David Louis Harbert - 1982 - Dissertation, Yale University
    This is a critical study of C. I. Lewis' Epistemology and metaphysics from an original existential-phenomenological point of view. The study is critical of Lewis' sense-data theory, his implicit representationalism or phenomenalism, and his idea that meanings are essentially analytic definitions. The study is critical as well of Lewis' explanation of lived experience as a constructed result of given data on the one hand and chosen analytic definitions on the other, which are then to be composed into predictions stretching into (...)
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  15. added 2018-10-08
    The Possibility of a Structural Phenomenology: The Case of Reversal Theory.Michael J. Apter - 1981 - Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 12 (2):173-187.
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  16. added 2018-03-08
    Formally Stating the AI Alignment Problem.I. I. I. G. Gordon Worley - manuscript
  17. added 2018-03-06
    Sign and Object : Quine’s Forgotten Book Project.Sander Verhaegh - 2019 - Synthese 196 (12):5039-5060.
    W. V. Quine’s first philosophical monograph, Word and Object, is widely recognized as one of the most influential books of twentieth century philosophy. Notes, letters, and draft manuscripts at the Quine Archives, however, reveal that Quine was already working on a philosophical book in the early 1940s; a project entitled Sign and Object. In this paper, I examine these and other unpublished documents and show that Sign and Object sheds new light on the evolution of Quine’s ideas. Where “Two Dogmas (...)
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  18. added 2017-10-12
    Sense-Data and the Philosophy of Mind: Russell, James, and Mach.Gary Hatfield - 2002 - Principia 6 (2):203-230.
    The theory of knowledge in early twentieth-century Anglo American philosophy was oriented toward phenomenally described cognition. There was a healthy respect for the mind-body problem, which meant that phenomena in both the mental and physical domains were taken seriously. Bertrand Russell's developing position on sense-data and momentary particulars drew upon, and ultimately became like, the neutral monism of Ernst Mach and William James. Due to a more recent behaviorist and physicalist inspired "fear of the mental", this development has been down-played (...)
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  19. added 2017-08-17
    Review of Richard E. Cytowic, *The Man Who Tasted Shapes*. [REVIEW]G. Nixon - 1999 - Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (1):122-123.
    The Warner Books back cover proclaims: In the tradition of Oliver Sachʼs [sic] bestselling *The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat...* The manner and misspellingsignify that Cytowic himself had nothing to do with such publishing hucksterism. However, one thing is clear upon reading this book: Richard Cytowic, M.D., is no Oliver Sacks. Though, as will be seen, there is much in here to recommend itself, his stilted reproduction of conversations which or may not have taken place and his (...)
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  20. added 2017-07-10
    Boarding Neurath's Boat: The Early Development of Quine's Naturalism.Sander Verhaegh - 2017 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 55 (2):317-342.
    W. V. Quine is arguably the intellectual father of contemporary naturalism, the idea that there is no distinctively philosophical perspective on reality. Yet, even though Quine has always been a science-minded philosopher, he did not adopt a fully naturalistic perspective until the early 1950s. In this paper, I reconstruct the genesis of Quine’s ideas on the relation between science and philosophy. Scrutinizing his unpublished papers and notebooks, I examine Quine’s development in the first decades of his career. After identifying three (...)
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  21. added 2017-06-06
    Kant's Idealism and Phenomenalism. Critical Notice of Lucy Allais's "Manifest Reality. Kant's Idealism & His Realism".Dennis Schulting - 2017 - Studi Kantiani 30:191–202.
  22. added 2017-02-09
    25. For the Best Discussion as to Whether or Not It is Illuminating to Say That Phenomenalism and the Mobile Movie Camera Came Into Being at About the Same Time.J. Brenton Stearns - 1963 - Review of Metaphysics 16 (3):575-577.
  23. added 2017-01-28
    Phenomenalism.William Braxton Irvine - 1980 - Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles
    Finally, in Chapter VI, I defend Mill's theory--or my interpretation of it, at any rate--against certain objections that have been or might be raised against it. Among the objections I examine are the objection that Mill's theory does not allow material objects to exist in a world in which sentient beings never exist, that Mill's theory is unable to distinguish between certain clearly distinct situations that might obtain in a world, that Mill's theory cannot account for the existence of unperceivable (...)
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  24. added 2017-01-22
    Phenomenalism and Observation Conditions.Eric Russert Kraemer - 1984 - Analysis 44 (3):140 - 143.
  25. added 2017-01-17
    2. Phenomena, Phenomenalism, and Science.Mario Bunge - 2006 - In Chasing Reality: Strife Over Realism. University of Toronto Press. pp. 34-55.
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  26. added 2017-01-16
    IX.—Phenomenalism.A. J. Ayer - 1947 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 47 (1):163-196.
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  27. added 2017-01-16
    VI.—The Paradox of Phenomenalism.W. F. R. Hardie - 1945 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 46 (1):127-154.
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  28. added 2017-01-16
    IV.—Phenomenalism.D. G. C. Macnabb - 1941 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 41 (1):67-90.
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  29. added 2017-01-16
    IX.—How May Phenomenalism Be Refuted?R. I. Aaron - 1938 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 39 (1):167-184.
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  30. added 2017-01-16
    VIII.—Phenomenalism.C. D. Broad - 1915 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 15 (1):227-251.
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  31. added 2016-12-08
    La Geometrie dans le Monde Sensible.Jean Nicod - 1924 - F. Alcan.
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  32. added 2016-10-31
    Protogeometer: Falling Into Future.Vladimir Rogozhin - 2014 - FQXi Essay Contest 2014.
    Universe silence … Why? TechnoSfera … Where does it move? BioSfera … Where is the ―non-return point? NooSfera … What to do? The deep mind looks for primordial senses of the ―LifeWorld(LebensWelt). Сonsciousness, matter, memory … Self-Consciousness… Сonsciousness is attracting senses vector magnitude, intentional effect of absolute complexity. The Vector of Сonsciousness - the Triune Vector of absolute forms of existence of matter (limit states), the Vector of the Absolute Existential Field of the Universe, a polyvalent sense phenomenon of Ontological (...)
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  33. added 2016-10-22
    Review of Freedom Evolves by Daniel Dennett (2003).Michael Starks - 2017 - Philosophy, Human Nature and the Collapse of Civilization Michael Starks 3rd Ed. (2017).
    ``People say again and again that philosophy doesn´t really progress, that we are still occupied with the same philosophical problems as were the Greeks. But the people who say this don´t understand why is has to be so. It is because our language has remained the same and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions. As long as there continues to be a verb´to be´that looks as if it functions in the same way as´to eatánd´to drink´, as long as (...)
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  34. added 2016-09-26
    New Phenomenalism as an Account of Perceptual Knowledge.Alan Hobbs - 1975 - Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures 9:109-121.
    To be an Empiricist with respect to knowledge of the natural world, is to insist that all knowledge of that world is rooted in perceptual experience. All claims which go beyond the deliverances of the senses must, in the end, be justified by, and understood in terms of, relations holding between those claims and sensory data. Crucial to the Empiricist case, therefore, is an account of how perception can be a source of knowledge. How can sensory experiences provide, for the (...)
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  35. added 2016-09-09
    Phenomenalism (Encyclopedia Entry).Richard Fumerton - 1998 - Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  36. added 2016-09-05
    What’s Really Wrong With Phenomenalism.J. Mackie - 1969 - Proceedings of the British Academy 55:113-127.
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  37. added 2016-08-31
    Issues in Phenomenalist Metaphysics.Kevin Morris - 2016 - Analysis 76 (4):471-479.
    This critical discussion of Michael Pelczar's Sensorama (OUP, 2015)raises several interrelated issues about Pelczar's phenomenalism that arise from its commitment to ungrounded experiential conditionals reflecting what experiences there would be, were there other experiences.
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  38. added 2016-08-24
    Perception.H. H. Price - 1932 - Methuen & Co..
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  39. added 2016-08-22
    An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy, and of the Principal Philosophical Questions Discussed in His Writings.John Stuart Mill - 1865 - Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green.
  40. added 2016-08-21
    Author's Summary, and Replies to Commentators. [REVIEW]Michael Pelczar - forthcoming - Analysis.
  41. added 2016-08-21
    Worlds, Voyages and Experiences: Commentary on Pelczar’s Sensorama. [REVIEW]Geoffrey Lee - 2016 - Analysis 76 (4):453-461.
  42. added 2016-08-21
    Introspection in Michael Pelczar’s Sensorama. [REVIEW]Eugene Mills - 2016 - Analysis 76 (4):461-471.
  43. added 2016-08-21
    Metaphysical And Epistemological Problems Of Perception.Richard A. Fumerton - 1985 - Lincoln: University Nebraska Press.
  44. added 2016-08-21
    The Problem of Empiricism.Roderick M. Chisholm - 1948 - Journal of Philosophy 45 (19):512-517.
  45. added 2016-08-21
    An Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation.C. I. Lewis - 1946 - Open Court.
    We are republishing these classic works in affordable, high quality, modern editions, using the original text and artwork.
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  46. added 2016-08-19
    What is Time?Michael Pelczar - forthcoming - In Ian Phillips (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Temporal Experience. Routledge.
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  47. added 2016-08-19
    Perception.Howard Robinson - 1994 - New York: Routledge.
    Questions about perception remain some of the most difficult and insoluble in both epistemology and in the philosophy of mind. This controversial but highly accessible introduction to the area explores the philosophical importance of those questions by re-examining what had until recent times been the most popular theory of perception - the sense-datum theory. Howard Robinson surveys the history of the arguments for and against the theory from Descartes to Husserl. He then shows that the objections to the theory, particularly (...)
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  48. added 2016-08-19
    J.S. Mill: Logic and Metaphysics.John Skorupski - 1994 - In C. L. Ten (ed.), The Nineteenth Century. Routledge. pp. 98-121.
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  49. added 2016-08-19
    Epilogue.F. P. Ramsey - 1925 - In The Foundations of Mathematics and Other Logical Essays. Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 287-92.
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  50. added 2016-08-19
    Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description.Bertrand Russell - 1911 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 11:108--28.
1 — 50 / 102