Representational Theories of Phenomenal Character

Dissertation, University of Stirling (2000)
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This thesis is an examination and critique of naturalistic representational theories of phenomenal character. Phenomenal character refers to the distinctive quality that perceptual and sensational experiences seem to have; it is identified with 'what it is like' to undergo experiences. The central claims of representationalism are that phenomenal character is identical with the content of experience and that all representational states, bearing appropriate relations to the cognitive system, are conscious experiences. These claims are taken to explain both how conscious experiential states arise and their nature. After examining the desiderata for naturalistic explanations, I argue that theories which ascribe nonconceptual content to experiences are the most plausible versions of representationalism. Further, causal covariation and teleological theories yield distinctive and interesting representationalist positions, hence, they become the focus of this study. To assess representationalism, I investigate whether all differences in phenomenal character can be correlated with differences in content. I claim that a useful distinction can be drawn between implicit and explicit content, which allows one to best describe the phenomena of perfect and relative pitch. I then argue that ambiguous figures show that two experiences can have the same content but different phenomenal character. I explicate the Inverted Earth hypothesis and claim that to identify content and phenomenal character, representationalists either have to condone the possibility of philosophical zombies, or hold that people lack authoritative first-person knowledge of their current experiences. Both these positions are unpalatable. Finally, I argue that representationalists cannot ascribe contents to experiences of novel colours to account for their phenomenal character. I also question, in light of dissociation phenomena, whether there is one distinctive relationship that all experiences bear to the cognitive system. I conclude that phenomenal character cannot be identical with the type of content under investigation, and that naturalistic representationalist theories cannot fully explain conscious experience



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Fiona Macpherson
University of Glasgow

Citations of this work

XV—Cross‐Modal Experiences.Fiona Macpherson - 2011 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 111 (3pt3):429-468.
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A Materialist Theory of the Mind.D. M. Armstrong - 1968 - New York: Routledge. Edited by Ted Honderich.

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