A Phenomenal Theory of Grasping and Understanding

In Andrei Ionuţ Mărăşoiu & Mircea Dumitru (eds.), Understanding and Conscious Experience: Philosophical and Scientific Perspectives. Routledge (forthcoming)
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There is a difference between merely thinking that P and really grasping that P. For example, Jackson's (1982) black-and-white Mary cannot (before leaving her black-and-white room) fully grasp what it means to say that fire engines are red, but she can perfectly well entertain the thought that fire engines are red. The contrast between merely thinking and grasping is especially salient in the context of certain moral decisions. For example, an individual who grasps the plight of starving children thanks to evocative images seems much more likely to donate for the children's benefit than someone who is merely told about their plight. This paper offers a phenomenal account of grasping according to which grasping a content (whether a proposition or concept) consists in one's thoughts about the content being constituted by phenomenal experiences of constituents of the content. This account improves on earlier phenomenal accounts of grasping (Bourget 2017a, 2018) by allowing for partial grasping and generalizing to concepts. The paper also addresses objections to phenomenal accounts of grasping, including the objection that recent developments in AI technology show that consciousness is irrelevant to grasping and understanding.

Author's Profile

David Bourget
University of Western Ontario


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