The role of imagination and recollection in the method of phenomenal contrast

Theoria 89 (5):710-733 (2023)
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The method of phenomenal contrast (in perception) invokes the phenomenal character of perceptual experience as a means to discover its contents. The method implicitly takes for granted that ‘what it is like’ to have a perceptual experience e is the same as ‘what it is like’ to imagine or recall it; accordingly, in its various proposed implementations, the method treats imaginations and/or recollections as interchangeable with real experiences. The method thus always contrasts a pair of experiences, at least one of which is imagined or remembered rather than occurrent. Surveying all eighteen forms of implementing the method, I argue that in all of the proposed pairings, the substitution of imagination or recollection for perceptual experience in the method, is either inconceivable or impermissible. I identify four reasons why I think imagination cannot be substituted for real experience, and three reasons why recollection cannot be substituted for real experience. If my argument works, there is no form of implementing the method that is useful for discovering the contents of experience, and thus the method is not a well‐functioning tool to study the contents of perception.

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Hamid Nourbakhshi
University of Missouri, Columbia


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