Edited by Michael Pelczar (National University of Singapore)
About this topic

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. 
Related categories

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  1. IX.—How May Phenomenalism Be Refuted?R. I. Aaron - 1939 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 39 (1):167-184.
  2. How May Phenomenalism Be Refuted?R. I. Aaron - 1938 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 39:167 - 184.
  3. The Inadequacy of Phenomenalism.E. M. Adams - 1959 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 20 (1):93-102.
  4. Phenomenalism and Corporeal Substance in Leibniz.Robert Merrihew Adams - 1983 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 8 (1):217-257.
  5. 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.
  6. The Possibility of a Structural Phenomenology: The Case of Reversal Theory.Michael J. Apter - 1981 - Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 12 (2):173-187.
  7. Kant’s Phenomenalism.Richard E. Aquila - 1975 - Idealistic Studies 5 (2):108-126.
  8. Perception And The Physical World.David M. Armstrong - 1961 - Humanities Press.
  9. IX.—Phenomenalism.A. J. Ayer - 1947 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 47 (1):163-196.
  10. Phenomenalism.A. J. Ayer - 1946 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 47:163 - 196.
  11. 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 (...)
  12. Phenomenalism and Determinism.Monroe C. Beardsley - 1942 - Journal of Philosophy 39 (26):711-717.
  13. Truthmakers: The Contemporary Debate.Helen Beebee & Julian Dodd (eds.) - 2005 - Clarendon Press.
  14. Comments on a Recent Version of Phenomenalism.M. Black - 1939 - Analysis 7 (1):1 - 12.
  15. 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 (...)
  16. XIV.—Propositions About Material Objects.R. B. Braithwaite - 1938 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 38 (1):269-290.
  17. VIII.—Phenomenalism.C. D. Broad - 1915 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 15 (1):227-251.
  18. Phenomenalism.C. D. Broad - 1914 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 15:227 - 251.
  19. 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 (...)
  20. Hypothetical Statements in Phenomenalism.Robert Brown & John Watling - 1950 - Synthese 8 (8/9):355 - 366.
  21. 2. Phenomena, Phenomenalism, and Science.Mario Bunge - 2006 - In Chasing Reality: Strife Over Realism. University of Toronto Press. pp. 34-55.
  22. The Logical Structure of the World.Rudolf Carnap - 1967 - Berkeley: University of California Press.
  23. The Problem of Empiricism.Roderick M. Chisholm - 1948 - Journal of Philosophy 45 (19):512-517.
  24. A Defense of Phenomenalism.Mark Thomas Coppenger - 1974 - Dissertation, Vanderbilt University
  25. Theoretical Phenomenalism.James W. Cornman - 1973 - Noûs 7 (2):120-138.
  26. Berkeley and Phenomenalism.J. W. Davis - 1962 - Dialogue 1 (1):67-80.
  27. Between Platonism and Phenomenalism: Reply to Cao.Steven French & James Ladyman - 2003 - Synthese 136 (1):73-78.
  28. The Dissolution of Objects: Between Platonism and Phenomenalism. [REVIEW]Steven French & James Ladyman - 2003 - Synthese 136 (1):73 - 77.
  29. Phenomenalism (Encyclopedia Entry).Richard Fumerton - 1998 - Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  30. Metaphysical And Epistemological Problems Of Perception.Richard A. Fumerton - 1985 - Lincoln: University Nebraska Press.
  31. Phenomenalism.Richard Anthony Fumerton - 1974 - Dissertation, Brown University
  32. Monadology.Montgomery Furth - 1967 - Philosophical Review 76 (2):169-200.
  33. Formally Stating the AI Alignment Problem.I. I. I. G. Gordon Worley - manuscript
  34. Materialism.Richard H. Green - 2001 - International Studies in Philosophy 33 (4):148-149.
  35. 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 (...)
  36. Mill, Phenomenalism, and the Self.Andy Hamilton - 1998 - In John Skorupski (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Mill. Cambridge University Press. pp. 139--75.
  37. 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 (...)
  38. VI.—The Paradox of Phenomenalism.W. F. R. Hardie - 1946 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 46 (1):127-154.
  39. The Paradox of Phenomenalism.W. F. R. Hardie - 1945 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 46:127 - 154.
  40. 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 (...)
  41. 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 (...)
  42. A Treatise of Human Nature.David Hume - 1738 - Oxford University Press.
    A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40), 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 philosophy. -/- The Treatise first explains how we form such concepts as cause and effect, external existence, and personal identity, and to form compelling but unconfirmable beliefs in the entities represented by these concepts. It then offers (...)
  43. 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 (...)
  44. A Criticism of Phenomenalism.Takeo Iwasaki - 1974 - Revue Internationale de Philosophie 28 (1/2=107/108):116.
  45. Le Je-Ne-Sais-Quol Et le Presque-Rien.Vladimir Jankélévitch - 1959 - Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 15 (2):216-217.
  46. 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 (...)
  47. Phenomenalism and Observation Conditions.Eric Russert Kraemer - 1984 - Analysis 44 (3):140 - 143.
  48. C. I. Lewis and the Problem of Phenomenalism.T. Z. Lavine - 1981 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 41 (3):386-395.
  49. Worlds, Voyages and Experiences: Commentary on Pelczar’s Sensorama. [REVIEW]Geoffrey Lee - 2016 - Analysis 76 (4):453-461.
  50. Realism or Phenomenalism?C. I. Lewis - 1955 - Philosophical Review 64 (2):233-247.
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