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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