The Character of Experience

Paul Gilbert and Kathleen Lennon

in The World, the Flesh and the Subject

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780748614981
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748652495 | DOI:
The Character of Experience

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Sensory perceptions and bodily sensations are paradigms of mental states that have a subjective character: there is something it is like to be in them which seems recalcitrant to explanation in terms of the way they function to mediate behaviour. Continental philosophers, such as Sartre, have typically rejected accounts of this that postulate ‘contents’ of experience over and above the objects to which it is directed; so how is its subjective character to be explained? Heidegger approaches the question by first asking what it is like to live in the world as we do, when it is the availability of things around us that matters, not the visual sensations and so forth which they produce. Merleau-Ponty develops Heidegger’s account by viewing our existence in the world as primarily ‘pre-objective’, that is, as that of embodied agents manipulating things unreflectively, rather than that of subjects set over against the objects of our experience. For neither philosopher, however, is what our experience is like exhausted by an account of its intentional content. This content captures what the experience gives us grounds, other things being equal, for believing about the world, whether such a belief is reflective or merely presupposed by the way we unreflectively act.

Keywords: Sartre; Heidegger; Merleau-Ponty; existence; intentional content

Chapter.  10477 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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