Introspection, Intentionality, and the Transparency of Experience

Philosophical Topics 28 (2):49-67 (2000)
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Some philosophers have argued recently that introspective evidence provides direct support for an intentionalist theory of visual experience. An intentionalist theory of visual experience treats experience as an intentional state, a state with an intentional content. (I shall use the word ’state’ in a general way, for any kind of mental phenomenon, and here I shall not distinguish states proper from events, though the distinction is important.) Intentionalist theories characteristically say that the phenomenal character of an experience, what it is like to have the experience, is exhausted by its intentional content. Visual experience, and on some views sense-experience generally, does not involve the awareness of ’qualia’, intrinsic, non-intentional features of the experience. According to Gilbert Harman and Michael Tye, support for this view comes from introspecting on experience. Tye describes his ’argument from introspection’ as follows: Standing on the beach in Santa Barbara a couple of summers ago on a bright sunny day, I found myself transfixed by the intense blue of the Pacific Ocean. Was I not here delighting in the phenomenal aspects of my visual experience? And if I was, doesn’t this show that there are visual qualia? I am not convinced. It seems to me that what I found so pleasing in the above instance, what I was focusing on, as it were, were a certain shade and intensity of the colour blue. I experienced blue as a property of the ocean not as a property of my experience. My experience itself certainly wasn’t blue. Rather, it was an experience which represented the ocean as blue. What I was really delighting in, then, were specific aspects of the content of the experience. Tye goes on to suggest that this might have been the sort of thing Moore meant when he said that the sensation of blue is ’diaphanous’, and glosses this as follows: When one tries to focus on it in introspection one cannot help but see right through it so that what one actually ends up attending to is the real colour blue. 1An early version of this paper was presented at the conference, Mental Phenomena III in Dubrovnik, Croatia..

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Tim Crane
Central European University


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