Introspection, Phenomenality, and the Availability of Intentional Content

In Tim Bayne & Michelle Montague (eds.), Cognitive Phenomenology. Oxford University Press. pp. 141-173 (2011)
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Some analytic philosophers have recently been defending the thesis that there’s “something it’s like” to consciously think a particular thought, which is qualitatively different from what it’s like to be in any other kind of conscious mental state and from what it’s like to think any other thought, and which constitutes the thought’s intentional content. (I call this the “intentional phenomenology thesis”). One objection to this thesis concerns the introspective availability of such content: If it is true that intentional phenomenology is constitutive of intentional content, and that conscious phenomenology is always introspectively available, then it ought to be true that the content of any concept consciously entertained is always introspectively available. But it is not. For example, one can know introspectively that one is thinking that one knows that p without knowing introspectively what the content of the concept of knowledge is. Hence, it cannot be that intentional content is constituted by cognitive phenomenology. I explore three responses to this objection. First, it is not clear that all of the contents of consciousness must be equally available to introspection. The capacities for conscious experience and introspective attention to it are distinct. It is not implausible that the resolving power of the latter might be insufficient to discern all of the fine-grained details of the former, or that its scope might be limited. Second, it is possible that in cases of incomplete accessibility one is entertaining only part of the concept the relevant term expresses in one’s language. In the knowledge case, for example, perhaps one is thinking only that one has justified true belief that p (one’s self-attribution of a thought about knowledge is in fact false). Finally, in such cases one might be consciously entertaining only part of the relevant concept, the rest remaining unconscious, and so unavailable to conscious introspection. I conclude that the objection is not decisive against the intentional phenomenology thesis.

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David Pitt
California State University, Los Angeles


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