Tuesday, August 19, 2014
A Snippet from a Forthcoming paper
In 1976, when I delivered the John Locke Lectures at Oxford, I often spent time with Peter Strawson, and one day at lunch he made a remark I have never been able to forget. He said, "Surely half the pleasure of life is sardonic comment on the passing show". This blog is devoted to comments, not all of them sardonic, on the passing philosophical show.
The following paragraphs are from my “Perception Without Sense-Data”, forthcoming in Willy Essler and Michael Frauchiger (eds.), Themes from Putnam (Ontos)
Indeed, it may seem obvious that, if there are sense data, then they are what knowledge of the world is “based on”. What else do we have, after all? Even before we try to see more clearly what the alternatives before us really are, here is a point to keep in mind: the fact (if you agree with me that it is a fact) that our experience has a qualitative and non-conceptual dimension does not entail that we perceive qualia. Indeed, Moore himself thought that it is difficult to perceive qualia, and Shoemaker has argued that we cannot perceive them. As Block writes,
“Shoemaker’s view is shared by Fred Dretske, Gilbert Harman, Michael Tye and many others who advocate what G. E. Moore termed the diaphanousness (or sometimes the transparency) of experience. Harman puts the point by saying that the more one tries to attend to one’s experience of the tree, the more one attends to the real tree instead. Although Moore is sometimes cited as the originator of this point, he did not actually accept it. I have heard him quoted saying ‘... the moment we try to fix our attention upon consciousness and to see what, distinctly, it is, it seems to vanish: it seems as if we had before us a mere emptiness. When we try to introspect the sensation of blue, all we can see is the blue; the other element is as if it were diaphanous.’ But these words are followed by what I regard as a more significant truth: ‘Yet it can be distinguished if we look attentively enough, and know that there is something to look for.’”
Hilla Jacobson and I are currently working on a book on the quest for naive realism in contemporary philosophy of mind. Our view is neither Shoemaker’s (that there is no such thing as attending to one’s qualia) or Block and Moore’s view that we have to perform a special act of “looking attentively enough” (unless what they mean to point out is just that we have to conceptualize differently when we attend to the qualitative aspect of what is presented in an experience as opposed to its representational content). We can attend both to the objective color (for example) of something (that shirt is blue) and to the “look” of that color, and, indeed, to various “looks” that it (potentially) has—how it looks from here, for example, or how it looks in the daylight, and also to more subjective looks. In the case of veridical perception, all of those looks are genuine properties of the object seen.