John Foster

in The Nature of Perception

Published in print March 2000 | ISBN: 9780198237693
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597442 | DOI:

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We are still provisionally assuming the truth of physical realism. Within this realist framework, the rejection of SDR obliges us to accept the broad representative theory (BRT). This claims that, whenever someone perceives a physical item, his perceptual contact with it is psychologically mediated, i.e. it is constituted by the combination of his being in some more fundamental psychological state, which is not in itself physical‐item perceptive, and certain additional facts that do not involve anything further about his current psychological condition. One important issue now is: what is the nature of these mediating psychological states? And in particular, what is the nature of the mediating states involved in Φ‐terminal perception? Obviously, the states are of an experiential kind; and, in the case of Φ‐terminal perception, they cover the phenomenal content of the perceiving. So, in the case of Φ‐terminal perception, we can speak of them as phenomenal‐experiential (PE) states, and speak of instances of them as phenomenal experiences.

Phenomenal experiences are such as to invite the subject to believe that he is presentationally aware of some physical item. A number of theories can be shown to be unsatisfactory because they do not do justice to the presentational feel of such experiences. They include the cognitive theory, which takes such experiences to be the acquiring of putative information about the physical environment, and the imagist proposal, which takes them to be a passive form of imagistic conceiving. One traditional theory that does justice to the presentational feel of phenomenal experience is the sense‐datum theory (SDT). As I initially represent it, SDT claims that each phenomenal experience divides into two components: (i) a non‐conceptual sensory component, which consists in the presentation of an internal object of awareness, which has no existence outside the context of the presentational awareness directed onto it; this object is termed a ‘sense‐datum’; and (ii) a conceptual component, consisting in the interpretation of the sense‐datum as an external item of a certain kind, presented to the subject in a certain perspective. But the trouble with SDT, thus understood, is that it is impossible to make sense of something's being an internal object of awareness in the envisaged sense, since, if the object has no ontological life independently of the awareness, there is nothing genuinely there for the awareness to be an awareness of. One way of responding to this point would be to replace SDT by the adverbial theory. This theory too takes a phenomenal experience to divide into sensory and interpretative components, but it construes the sensory component not as a sensory awareness of an object, but as a sensory awareness in a certain manner. But the problem with the adverbial theory is that, in rejecting the relational character of the sensory awareness, it loses the ability to explain the presentational feel of phenomenal experience. The correct solution is to accept SDT, but with a crucial revision. In this revision, the presented sense‐data are re‐construed as sensory universals, each of which is capable of presentational occurrence in any number of minds and on any number of occasions. Thus re‐construed, sense‐data become sense‐qualia, and the sense‐datum theory becomes the sense‐quale theory (SQT). Sense‐qualia are entities that can only exist as objects of presentational awareness. But because each sense‐quale can occur in different minds and at different times, it has the right kind of ontological independence from any given presentation to leave no problem as to how it can serve as a genuine object of awareness.

Keywords: adverbial theory; awareness; experience; imagism; interpretation; mediationperception; perceptual contact; phenomenal experience; qualia; representation; sense‐data; sensory

Chapter.  3861 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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