Phenomenal Acquaintance

Dissertation, Umass Amherst (2009)
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Chapter 1 is devoted to taking care of some preliminary issues. I begin by distinguishing those states of awareness in virtue of which we’re acquainted with the phenomenal characters of our experiences from those states of awareness some claim are at the very nature of experience. Then I reconcile the idea that experience is transparent with the claim that we can be acquainted with phenomenal character. In Chapter 2 I set up a dilemma that is the primary focus of the dissertation. In the first part of this chapter I argue that phenomenal acquaintance has three key features, what I call its ‘directness’, ‘thickness’, and ‘infallibility’. In the second part I argue, however, that it’s really quite puzzling how thoughts about phenomenal character (or any thoughts, for that matter) could have them. In the next two chapters I consider how we might resolve the dilemma described above. I begin in Chapter 3 by considering an account of phenomenal acquaintance inspired by Bertrand Russell’s discussion of acquaintance. The general idea here is to excise mental representation from phenomenal acquaintance, and I ultimately reject the proposal. Chapter 4 is the core chapter of the dissertation. In it I propose an account of phenomenal acquaintance that doesn’t excise mental representation. My account is comprised of three theses. First, token experiences are complex and have instances of phenomenal properties as components. Second, instances of phenomenal properties are mental representations, and they represent themselves. Third, the attention relevant to phenomenal acquaintance is underwritten by self-representation. I argue that my account explains how phenomenal acquaintance is direct, thick, and infallible, thereby resolving our dilemma. I argue in Chapter 5 that my account of phenomenal acquaintance explains why there is an explanatory gap between the phenomenal and non-phenomenal truths. Accordingly, I conclude that the explanatory gap doesn’t pose a problem for physicalism. Here I implement what has come to be called the ‘phenomenal concept strategy’ for responding to the challenge posed by the explanatory gap.



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Kelly Trogdon
Virginia Tech

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