Experience and Intentional Content

Dissertation, Oxford University (2005)
Ian Phillips
University of Birmingham
Strong or Pure Intentionalism is the claim that the phenomenal character of any perceptual experience can be exhaustively characterized solely by reference to its Intentional content. Strong or Pure Anti-Intentionalism is the claim that the phenomenal character of any perceptual experience can be exhaustively characterized solely by reference to its non-Intentional properties. In Chapters One and Two, I consider how best to delineate the opposition between these positions. I reject various characterizations of the distinction, in particular, that it can be captured in modal terms. Pure Intentionalist and Pure Anti-Intentionalist accounts can in fact share a modal profile. The most fundamental way of distinguishing Intentionalism from Anti-Intentionalism is in terms of the Intentionalist claim that experiences have contents with truth or satisfaction conditions. Characterized in this way, Intentionalism is committed to the claim that perceptual experience exhibits a certain kind of generality in that perceptual experiences essentially present their objects as being certain general ways. In contrast, the anti-Intentionalist denies that talk of seeing objects as certain kinds of object or as particular objects of those kinds provides a characterization of any aspect of the phenomenal character of perceptual experience. Anti-Intentionalist theories must, therefore, account for phenomenal character wholly in terms of particularist properties. In Chapters Three and Four, I argue that neither of these pure views of experience can do justice to the phenomenology of our ordinary perceptual encounters with the world. In Chapter Three, I contend that Pure Anti- Intentionalism, at least in the form of Bill Brewer’s Object View, fails to provide a satisfactory account of the phenomenology of aspect shifts and continuous aspect perception. Furthermore, I argue that the Object View’s accounts of perceptual illusion are ill-motivated and fundamentally unsatisfactory. In Chapter Four, I argue that Pure Intentionalism is inconsistent with the phenomenologically evident fact that experiences are durational events which unfold over time. Accordingly, the assumption that the phenomenal character of perceptual experience must be wholly characterized in terms of one kind of property, be it Intentionalist or non-Intentionalist, should be rejected. Any plausible theory of experience must appeal to different kinds of phenomenal property. In Chapter Five, I defend a view which does just this: the Catholic View of experience. The Catholic View claims that the phenomenal character of any mature human experience must be characterized in terms of both particularist and Intentional properties. I conclude by showing how this account avoids the most serious criticisms that have been levelled against the idea of non-representational, or ‘given’ elements in experience.
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