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 1947 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. The Existence of Mind-Independent Physical Objects.Leslie Allan - manuscript
    The author challenges both the eliminative idealist's contention that physical objects do not exist and the phenomenalist idealist's view that statements about physical objects are translatable into statements about private mental experiences. Firstly, he details how phenomenalist translations are parasitic on the realist assumption that physical objects exist independently of experience. Secondly, the author confronts eliminative idealism head on by exposing its heuristic sterility in contrast with realism's predictive success.
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  2. The Role of Imagination in Ernst Mach’s Philosophy of Science: A Biologico-Economical View.Char Brecevic - forthcoming - Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science:000-000.
  3. What is Time?Michael Pelczar - forthcoming - In Ian Phillips (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Temporal Experience. Routledge.
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  4. Author's Summary, and Replies to Commentators. [REVIEW]Michael Pelczar - forthcoming - Analysis.
  5. Experiential Metaphysics and Merleau-Ponty’s Intra-Ontology.Gregory M. Nixon - 2021 - Constructivist Foundations 16 (2):153-155.
    [This is a commentary article on Michel Bitbol's TA: "The Tangled Dialectic of Body and Consciousness: A Metaphysical Counterpart of Radical Neurophenomenology".] -/- A summary of the major metaphysical positions reveals them to be variable enough that they do not deny experience to the researcher. Further, Merleau-Ponty’s intra-ontology and related terms are fleshed out.
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  6. The History of 'Ideas'.Ilexa Yardley - 2021 - Https://Medium.Com/the-Circular-Theory/.
    We have to begin with the pyramid (pi-diameter-circumference). In order to understand an 'idea.' And, the history of ideas.
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  7. 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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  8. Ernst Mach’ın Anti-Realizminin Fenomenalist Temeli ve Öznel İdealist Sonucu: Mach Solipsist Bir Düşünür Olabilir Mi?Alper Bilgehan Yardımcı - 2020 - Beytulhikme An International Journal of Philosophy 10 (2):469-487.
    This article initially presents Ernst Mach's anti-realist or instrumentalist stance that underpin his opposition to atomism and reveal his idea that science should be based totally on objectively observable facts. Then, the details of Mach's phenomenalist arguments which recognize only sensations as real are revealed. Phenomenalist thought is not compatible with the idea of realism, which evaluates unobservable entities such as atom, molecule and quark as mind-independent things. In this context, Mach considers the atom as a thought symbol or a (...)
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  9. 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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  10. 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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  11. 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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  12. The American Philosophy and the Problem of Time.Michal Zlatoš - 2019 - Taula: Quaderns de Pensament 47:47-56.
    The American philosophy and the problem of time –[article]– attempts to briefly outline the concepts of understanding of the problem of time, temporality and continuity in American philosophy which is represented by Ch. Peirce, W. James, and A. N. Whitehead. The article also tries to point out the importance of the enquiry on the field of time. Further, it gives abbreviated outline of the historic conditions of emergence of the American philosophy.
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  13. 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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  14. 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.
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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. Worlds, Voyages and Experiences: Commentary on Pelczar’s Sensorama. [REVIEW]Geoffrey Lee - 2016 - Analysis 76 (4):453-461.
  18. Introspection in Michael Pelczar’s Sensorama. [REVIEW]Eugene Mills - 2016 - Analysis 76 (4):461-471.
  19. 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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  20. Leibniz and the Veridicality of Body Perceptions.Kenneth L. Pearce - 2016 - Philosophers' Imprint 16.
    According to Leibniz's late metaphysics, sensory perception represents to us as extended, colored, textured, etc., a world which fundamentally consists only of non-spatial, colorless entities, the monads. It is a short step from here to the conclusion that sensory perception radically misleads us about the true nature of reality. In this paper, I argue that this oft-repeated claim is false. Leibniz holds that in typical cases of body perception the bodies perceived really exist and have the qualities, both primary and (...)
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  21. Sensorama: A Phenomenalist Analysis of Spacetime and Its Contents.Michael Pelczar - 2015 - Oxford University Press.
    How does the modern scientific conception of time constrain the project of assigning the mind its proper place in nature? On the scientific conception, it makes no sense to speak of the duration of a pain, or the simultaneity of sensations occurring in different parts of the brain. Such considerations led Henri Poincaré, one of the founders of the modern conception, to conclude that consciousness does not exist in spacetime, but serves as the basic material out of which we must (...)
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  22. 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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  23. Nietzsche as Phenomenalist?Pietro Gori - 2012 - In Marco Brusotti, Günter Abel & Helmut Heit (eds.), Nietzsches Wissenschaftsphilosophie. Berlin/Boston: deGruyter. pp. 345-356.
    During the second decade of the 20th century Hans Kleinpeter, an Austrian scholar devoted to the development of the modern science, published some brief papers on Nietzsche’s thought. Kleinpeter has been one of the main upholders of Mach’s epistemology and probably the first who connected his ideas with the philosophy of Nietzsche. In his book on Der Phänomenalismus (1913) he described a new world view that arose in the 19th century, a perspective that ‒ according to him ‒ completely contrasted (...)
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  24. La teoria Della conoscenza di Mach E Nietzsche.Pietro Gori - 2011 - Giornale Critico Della Filosofia Italiana 7 (2):352-382.
    Translation and edition (with introduction) of four articles from Hans Kleinpeter: - Nietzsche als Schulreformer, «Blätter für deutsche Erziehung» 14/1912, pp. 99-101; - Der Pragmatismus im Lichte der Machschen Erkenntnislehre, «Wissenschaftliche Rundschau» 20/1912, pp. 405-407; - Die Erkenntnislehre Friedrich Nietzsches, «Wissenschaftliche Rundschau» 3/1912, pp. 5-9; - Ernst Mach und Friedrich Nietzsche, «Neue Freie Presse» 17423 (1913), pp. 31-32. Abstract: Hans Kleinpeter provided a popularization of both Ernst Mach’s thought and the scientific philosophy that forerun the foundation of the Vienna Circle. (...)
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  25. The theory of knowledge of Mach and Nietzsche.Pietro Gori - 2011 - Giornale Critico Della Filosofia Italiana 7 (2):352-382.
    Hans Kleinpeter provided a popularization of both Ernst Mach's thought and the scientific philosophy that forerun the foundation of the Vienna Circle. Between 1912 and 1913 Kleinpeter published the articles that one finds here in their first Italian translation; they concern a comparison between Mach's epistemology and Nietzsche's thought, and are thus an original contribution to the reception of the latter's philosophy. In these texts Kleinpeter anticipates some of the ideas he later presented in his work devoted to the 'Phenomenalistic' (...)
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  26. Phenomenalism in Epistemology and Physicalism in Aesthetics.Jacques Morizot - 2011 - Principia: An International Journal of Epistemology 15 (3):439-452.
    The starting point of this paper is the intriguing observation that Goodman has defended a phenomenalist point of view in his epistemological works and a physicalist one in aesthetics. In fact, it would certainly be more accurate to say that his focus was anti-physicalist in epistemology and anti phenomenalist in aesthetics. In any case a majority of interpreters would spontaneously have waited for a diametrically opposite choice, more consistent indeed with the positions taken by the representatives in these fields. Yet (...)
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  27. Ernst Mach on the Self. The Deconstruction of the Ego as an Attempt to Avoid Solipsism.Markus Schrenk - 2011 - Deutscher Kongress Für Philosophie, 11. - 15. September 2011, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.
    In his Contributions to the Analysis of the Sensations (Mach 1885) the phenomenalist philosopher Ernst Mach confronts us with a difficulty: “If we regard the Ego as a real unity, we become involved in the following dilemma: either we must set over against the Ego a world of unknowable entities […] or we must regard the whole world, the Egos of other people included, as comprised in our own Ego.” (Mach 1885: 21) In other words, if we start from a (...)
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  28. 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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  29. Truthmakers: The Contemporary Debate.Helen Beebee & Julian Dodd (eds.) - 2005 - Clarendon Press.
    This volume will be the starting point for future discussion and research.
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  30. Truthmakers and Explanation.David Liggins - 2005 - In Helen Beebee & Julian Dodd (eds.), Truthmakers: The Contemporary Debate. Clarendon Press. pp. 105--115.
    Truthmaker theory promises to do some useful philosophical work: equipping us to argue against phenomenalism and Rylean behaviourism, for instance, and helping us decide what exists (Lewis 1999, 207; Armstrong 1997, 113-119). But it has proved hard to formulate a truthmaker theory that is both useful and believable. I want to suggest that a neglected approach to truthmakers – that of Ian McFetridge – can surmount some of the problems that make other theories of truthmaking unattractive. To begin with, I’ll (...)
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  31. Relative Phenomenalism - Toward a More Plausible Theory of Mind.E. Barkin - 2003 - Journal of Consciousness Studies 10 (8):3-13.
    Most philosophers believe that qualitative states must be explained in terms of physical states of the brain in order to resolve the mind/ body problem. But the severe difficulties involved in deriving the mental from the physical or, even more bizarrely, eliminating the mental altogether, have caused some to seriously investigate Russell's longstanding ideas about the intrinsic nature of physical entities. The resulting microphenomenal approaches, however, are of necessity extremely vague and complicated. Consequently, a macrophenomenal theory of mind may well (...)
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  32. Between Platonism and Phenomenalism: Reply to Cao.Steven French & James Ladyman - 2003 - Synthese 136 (1):73-78.
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  33. The Dissolution of Objects: Between Platonism and Phenomenalism. [REVIEW]Steven French & James Ladyman - 2003 - Synthese 136 (1):73 - 77.
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  34. 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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  35. Materialism.Richard H. Green - 2001 - International Studies in Philosophy 33 (4):148-149.
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  36. 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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  37. Factual Phenomenalism: A Supervenience Theory.John Bolender - 1998 - Sorites 9 (9):16-31.
    Broadly speaking, phenomenalism is the position that physical facts depend upon sensory facts. Many have thought it to imply that physical statements are translatable into sensory statements. Not surprisingly, the impossibility of such translations led many to abandon phenomenalism in favor of materialism. But this was rash, for if phenomenalism is reformulated as the claim that physical facts supervene upon sensory facts, then translatability is no longer required. Given materialism's failure to account for subjective experience, there has been a revival (...)
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  38. Phenomenalism (Encyclopedia Entry).Richard Fumerton - 1998 - Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  39. Mill, Phenomenalism, and the Self.Andy Hamilton - 1998 - In John Skorupski (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Mill. Cambridge University Press. pp. 139--75.
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  40. 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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  41. 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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  42. God's Phenomena and the Pre-Established Harmony.Gregory Brown - 1987 - Studia Leibnitiana 19 (2):200-214.
    In this paper I wish to examine the nature and role of "the phenomena of God" in Leinbiz's mature thought. In the first part of the paper, I discuss the nature of the universal harmony and argue that they are the perceptiual states of finite substances and the relations among them that constitute God's phenomena. In the second part of the paper, I attempt to specify the theoretical role that God's phenomena play in Leibniz's phenomenalism. This leads finally to a (...)
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  43. The Phenomenalisms of Leibniz and Berkeley.Margaret D. Wilson - 1987 - In Ernest Sosa (ed.), Essays on the Philosophy of George Berkeley. D. Reidel.
  44. Leibniz and Phenomenalism.Nicholas Jolley - 1986 - Studia Leibnitiana 18 (1):38-51.
    Leibniz est-il devenu phénoménaliste pendant ses années dernières ? Contre Furth et Loeb, ce travail rend une réponse négative à cette question. Quoique Leibniz a caressé les idées phénoménalistes, il ne les a jamais vraiment acceptées ; au contraire, il soutient une autre thèse réductioniste, c'est-à-dire que les corps sont des agrégats des monades. Cependant, cette conclusion entraîne ses propres difficultés, car à certains égards, la doctrine phénoménaliste paraît plus satisfaisante que l'option concurrante. On soutient que la répugnance leibnizienne à (...)
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  45. Metaphysical And Epistemological Problems Of Perception.Richard A. Fumerton - 1985 - Lincoln: University Nebraska Press.
  46. C.I. Lewis and the Issue of Phenomenalism.Robert L. Greenwood - 1985 - Philosophy Research Archives 11:441-452.
    According to the received view, the philosophy of C.I. Lewis is a form of phenomenalism. The first part of this paper is an argument designed to show that Lewis does not support one of the necessary conditions for ontological phenomenalism; namely, the sense-datum theory. The secondpart is an argument designed to show that Lewis’ theory is incompatible with linguistic phenomenalism, a view according to which there is an equivalence of meaning between physical object statements and sense-data statements. The argument is (...)
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  47. Phenomenalism and Panpsychicism, Notes on Buccola, Gabriele.C. Pogliano - 1985 - Giornale Critico Della Filosofia Italiana 5 (1):126-133.
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  48. Phenomenalism and Observation Conditions.Eric Russert Kraemer - 1984 - Analysis 44 (3):140 - 143.
  49. Phenomenalism and Corporeal Substance in Leibniz.Robert Merrihew Adams - 1983 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 8 (1):217-257.
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  50. 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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