Phenomenal character, phenomenal concepts, and externalism

Philosophical Studies 147 (2):273 - 299 (2010)
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Abstract

A celebrated problem for representationalist theories of phenomenal character is that, given externalism about content, these theories lead to externalism about phenomenal character. While externalism about content is widely accepted, externalism about phenomenal character strikes many philosophers as wildly implausible. Even if internally identical individuals could have different thoughts, it is said, if one of them has a headache, or a tingly sensation, so must the other. In this paper, I argue that recent work on phenomenal concepts reveals that, contrary to appearances, this standard conjunction of externalism about content and internalism about phenomenal character is ultimately untenable on other models of phenomenal character as well, including even “qualia realism.” This would be significant for a number of reasons. The first is patent: it would undermine a primary objection to representationalism. The fact that representationalism is incompatible with the conjunction would be no serious problem for representationalism if no other plausible model of phenomenal character is compatible with it. The second is that the many philosophers who embrace the conjunction would be forced to abandon one of the two views; externalism would be true either of both content and phenomenal character, or of neither. Likewise, those philosophers who have taken a stance on only one of the two internalism/externalism debates would have to be seen as thereby committed to a particular stance on the other. The third reason stems from the fact that qualia realism typically goes hand in hand with internalism about phenomenal character. To the extent that it does, my argument would reveal that qualia realism is itself in tension with externalism about content. This would perhaps be the most surprising result of all.

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Jonathan Ellis
University of California, Santa Cruz

Citations of this work

Perceptual Content, Phenomenal Contrasts, and Externalism.Thomas Raleigh - 2022 - Journal of Philosophy 119 (11):602-627.
What was that like? Intuitions and the epistemology of consciousness.Brandon Ashby - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.
Reasons and Causes in Psychiatry: Ideas from Donald Davidson’s Work.Elisabetta Lalumera - 2018 - In Annalisa Coliva, Paolo Leonardi & Sebastiano Moruzzi (eds.), Eva Picardi on Language, Analysis and History. Londra, Regno Unito: Palgrave. pp. 281-296.
Sensation, Introspection, and the Phenomenal.Jonathan Ellis - 2012 - In J. Ellis & D. Guevara (eds.), Wittgenstein and the Philosophy of Mind. Oxford University Press.

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References found in this work

Fact, Fiction, and Forecast.Nelson Goodman - 1965 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind.John R. Searle - 1983 - New York: Oxford University Press.
The meaning of 'meaning'.Hilary Putnam - 1975 - Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7:131-193.

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