Knowing What It's Like

Philosophical Perspectives 37 (1):187-209 (2023)
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David Lewis—famously—never tasted vegemite. Did he have any knowledge of what it's like to taste vegemite? Most say 'no'; I say 'yes'. I argue that knowledge of what it’s like varies along a spectrum from more exact to more approximate, and that phenomenal concepts vary along a spectrum in how precisely they characterize what it’s like to undergo their target experiences. This degreed picture contrasts with the standard all-or-nothing picture, where phenomenal concepts and phenomenal knowledge lack any such degreed structure. I motivate the degreed picture by appeal to (1) limits in epistemic abilities such as recognition, imagination, and inference, and (2) the semantics of ‘knows what it’s like’ expressions. I argue that approximate phenomenal knowledge cannot be explained merely via determinable or vague phenomenal concepts. I develop a framework for systematizing approximate knowledge of phenomenal character. And I explain how my view challenges some standard assumptions about the acquisition conditions, requirements for mastery, and referential mechanisms of phenomenal concepts.

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Author's Profile

Andrew Y. Lee
University of Toronto at Scarborough

Citations of this work

Metaethical Experientialism.Andrew Y. Lee - forthcoming - In Geoffrey Lee & Adam Pautz (eds.), The Importance of Being Conscious. Oxford University Press.

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References found in this work

Epiphenomenal qualia.Frank Jackson - 1982 - Philosophical Quarterly 32 (April):127-136.
Individualism and the mental.Tyler Burge - 1979 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 4 (1):73-122.
The content and epistemology of phenomenal belief.David Chalmers - 2002 - In Aleksandar Jokic & Quentin Smith (eds.), Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 220--72.
Materialism and qualia: The explanatory gap.Joseph Levine - 1983 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 64 (October):354-61.
A Study of Concepts.Christopher Peacocke - 1992 - Studia Logica 54 (1):132-133.

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