Academic Papers

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Is All Phenomenology Presentational?

Ergo (forthcoming)

This paper is about two questions in contemporary philosophy of mind, which I call the Scope Question and the Marks Question.  The Scope Question is this: What kinds of mental states (events or processes) have phenomenal character, and how many different kinds of phenomenal character are there?  The Marks Question is this: What are the distinguishing “marks” of the phenomenal, in virtue of which a mental state, event, or process counts as being phenomenally conscious?   To make progress on these questions and explore the relationship between the two, I narrow my focus to a particular instance of each, viz. the (scope) question of whether thoughts possess their own phenomenal character and the (marks) question of whether all phenomenal character is presentational.  First, I argue that a phenomenology of entertaining thought content, if it exists, is non-presentational.  I then argue from the fact that every genuine phenomenal property can be thought about using a phenomenal concept, to the conclusion that all phenomenology is presentational.  One implication is that a (standard form of) transparent, proprietary phenomenology of thought does not exist.

The Limits of Perceptual Phenomenal Content

Philosophical Studies (2020). doi: 10.1007/s11098-019-01405-x

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There is an ongoing debate in philosophy of mind and epistemology about whether perceptual experience only represents those “thin” features of our environment that are apprehended by our senses, or whether, in addition to these, at least some perceptual experiences represent more complex, “thick” properties.  My aim in this paper is to articulate an important difference between thin and thick properties, and thus to diagnose a key intuitive resistance many proponents of the thin view feel towards the thick view.  My diagnosis then provides us with a novel and compelling argument against the thick view.  In what follows, first I consider two unsuccessful versions of an alternative strategy against the thick view found in the literature.  Next, I present my own argument.  The argument involves proposing two constraints on the phenomenal contents of perceptual experience, which I call the Presentation Principle and the Containment Principle, and then reasoning from these principles to a conclusion that is fatal to (most forms of) the thick view—an outcome that I call the problem of Phenomenal Explosion.  I conclude by responding to several objections.

Are Thoughts Ever Experiences?

American Philosophical Quarterly, 54:1 (2017), 46-58.

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The recent debate in philosophy of mind over whether thought has its own distinctive phenomenology, so-called cognitive phenomenology (CP), has led to a sharp division between proponents and skeptics of CP. This paper critically examines an ambitious argument against the existence of CP, which is based on a particular view of the temporal structure of thought. The argument, roughly, is that experiences, those mental entities that have phenomenology, persist as processes, while thoughts, on the other hand, are non-processive states or events. So no thoughts are experiences. The present paper attacks the claim that thoughts never temporally unfold as processes.

can phenomenology determine the content of thought?

Philosophical Studies (2016). doi: 10.1007/s11098-016-0689-0

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According to a number of popular intentionalist theories in philosophy of mind, phenomenology is essentially and intrinsically intentional: phenomenal properties are identical to intentional properties of a certain type, or at least, the phenomenal character of an experience necessarily fixes a type of intentional content. Meanwhile, a number of philosophers have argued for the existence of a proprietary phenomenology of thought, so-called cognitive phenomenology (CP). The purpose of this paper is to argue that these intentionalist and cognitive phenomenology views make surprisingly uncomfortable bedfellows. I contend that the combination of the two views is incompatible with our best theories of how our concepts are structured. So cognitive phenomenology cannot determine the contents of our thoughts.

Cognitive Phenomenology, Contrast Arguments, and Self-Knowledge

The popular thesis that there exists a distinctive phenomenology of thought, so-called cognitive phenomenology (CP), admits of two different readings that are often run together, what I call the Qualitative Thesis and the Modal Thesis. In this paper I will survey the two major types of argument in the literature for accepting the existence of CP: the Phenomenal Contrast Argument and the Self-Knowledge Argument. The primary purpose of the paper is to argue that while the balance of the evidence may, just about, favor some version of the Qualitative Thesis, the sort of cognitive phenomenology for which the standard arguments provide evidence falls well short of supporting the more radical Modal Thesis.  A secondary ambition of this paper is to draw attention to the way these two argumentative strategies relate to each other in the standard case for CP.

Cognitive Phenomenology on the Fringe

Philosophers are sharply divided on the question of whether thought has its own distinctive phenomenology, so-called cognitive phenomenology (CP). Most advocates of CP argue for the existence of phenomenal properties that are “proprietary” to thought, in the sense of determining or constituting the representation of thought’s contents. CP skeptics deny that there exists any such thing, restricting phenomenal properties to the sensory-perceptual domain. In this paper I examine the prospects of a modest type of cognitive phenomenology that does not implicate thought content, “Moderate CP”, which is inspired by William James’s notion of “fringe consciousness”. The Moderate CP account I develop should be of interest to open-minded people on both sides of the cognitive phenomenology debate and to all those on the fence, insofar as I am attempting to offer a plausible and genuinely distinct middle way between the two extremes.