Takuya Niikawa

Presentational Phenomenology and Phenomenal Character

The concept of phenomenal character of perceptual experience is basically characterized by the locution of “what it is like to have a perceptual experience” but this characterization should be further clarified (I call phenomenal character of perceptual experience PCP below). There are three important questions useful to characterize PCP in detail. The questions are as follows: (1) Should we accept “presentational phenomenology”, that is, it seems to one that one is aware of objects (Pautz 2007, p. 495) as the characterization of PCP? (2) Should we accept that we are actually aware of something (it might not be a concrete physical object) when it seems to us that we are aware of something? (3) Should we accept a principle that it is an essential component of PCP to be aware of something? How to answer these questions is crucial to evaluate philosophical theories of perceptual experience such as intentionalism and naive realism because the plausibility of the theories strongly depends on how to characterize PCP. The aim of this paper is to answer the three questions, and then to argue that a kind of intentionalism is not tenable, according to the answers. 1. My answer to the first question is as follows. if we reject presentational phenomenology as the characterization of PCP, then we have to devise an unnatural and technical characterization of PCP such as a characterization by using subjective indistinguishability, but it is unclear that such a characterization is able to grasp a pre-theoretical intuition about what it is like to have a perceptual experience; whereas presentational phenomenology is more compatible with the intuition. Therefore, it is plausible to characterize PCP by presentational phenomenology. And if you judge from your first person perspective that you have a perceptual experience but that it does not seem to you that you are aware of objects, then there are two possibilities: (a) what it is like for you to have a perceptual experience is extremely different from ours; or (b) you do not learn correctly the concept of being aware of”. The former is quite unlikely. The latter can be ignored. Therefore, presentational phenomenology has to be accepted as a character of the first person aspect of perceptual experience. 2. My answer to the second question is as follows. The expression “it seems to one that” in the formulation of presentational phenomenology can be interpreted in two different ways: epistemic and phenomenal. It is the phenomenal interpretation which is appropriate as the characterization of presentational phenomenology. In the interpretation, the fact that it seems to one that she is aware of something means that she has the same phenomenal impression as that which she enjoys if she is actually aware of something. If we accept presentational phenomenology in this sense, we have to accept that a subject can be actually aware of something, at least, in a class of perceptual experiences because otherwise we cannot understand what the phenomenal impression, which is supposed to be the same as that which she enjoys if she is actually aware of something, is. This is derived from the following principle: when X is characterized by being the same as Y, if there is no Y in any sense, then X is unintelligible.

3. My answer to the third question is that being aware of something is one of the essential components of PCP. According to the argument in section 1, PCP should be characterized by presentational phenomenology. It means that the concept of being aware of in the formulation of presentational phenomenology is not a third person concept. A concept is third personal if and only if the concept is characterized from the third person perspective. It might be possible to characterize the concept of being aware of from third person perspective, for example, by terms in cognitive neuroscience. However, concepts characterized in such a way cannot be used to characterize PCP because the concept of phenomenal character has to be the first person concept. Given that, it is plausible that the relation of being aware of constitutes PCP. The reason is as follows. If the relation of being aware of constitutes PCP, it is easy to understand how to acquire the concept of being aware of by reflection or introspection, that is, from first person perspective. On the other hand, if PCP is not constituted by the relation of being aware of, it is unclear how to acquire the concept of being aware of by reflection or introspection. 4. If, for a class of perceptual experiences, we have to accept that the relation of being aware of constitutes the phenomenal character, a kind of intentionalism is untenable. For example, the intentionalism advocated by Adam Pautz should be rejected. In his definition of intentionalism, PCP is completely grounded by a relation to an intentional content of the perceptual experience (Pautz 2010, p.258), and the relation is not a relation of being aware of. Therefore, even if Pautz accepts that we are aware of something in some sense, the concept of being aware of in his sense is different from one which constitutes PCP. According to the consideration in section 3, if the concept of being aware of does not constitute PCP, it is mystery how to acquire the concept of being aware of. Therefore, the concept of being aware of has been introduced illegitimately in his intentionalism; or the concept in his sense is third personal, and therefore, irrelevant to PCP. If the latter is true, although he seems to accept presentational phenomenology (Pautz 2007, p. 495), the appearance is fallacious. References: Pautz, A. (2007) “Intentionalism and Perceptual Presence”, Philosophical Perspectives 21 (1):495-541. Pautz, A. (2010) “Why Explain Visual Experience in Terms of Content” in Perceiving the World, edited by Nanay, B., pp. 254-309.

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