Truth and Content in Sensory Experience

In Uriah Kriegel (ed.), Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Mind Volume 3. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 318–338 (2023)
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David Papineau’s _The Metaphysics of Sensory Experience_ is deep, insightful, refreshingly brisk, and very readable. In it, Papineau argues that sensory experiences are intrinsic and non-relational states of subjects; that they do not essentially involve relations to worldly facts, properties, or other items (though they do happen to correlate with worldly items); and that they do not have truth conditions simply in virtue of their conscious (i.e., phenomenal) features. I am in enthusiastic agreement with the picture as described so far. But Papineau also argues that sensory experiences are in no interesting sense essentially representational and that what is responsible for their truth conditions is their correlations with the environment. Here, I disagree. Indeed, I think Papineau does not follow his arguments to their proper conclusions. For if sensory experiences are intrinsic, non-relational, and only contingently correlated with worldly conditions (as Papineau and I agree they are), then the phenomenal features of sensory states are representational in an important sense: they constitute what we think, perceptually experience, or otherwise entertain, making up how things seem to us from a first-person perspective. Because of this, the truth conditions of perceptual experiences cannot be entirely independent of their phenomenal features. They cannot merely be a matter of environmental correlations. If we follow Papineau’s arguments to their proper conclusions, we end up with a view much closer to a version of representationalism that Papineau dismisses, a view he calls “pure phenomenal intentionalism”.

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Angela Mendelovici
University of Western Ontario


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