Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh (2018)
If what we believe can directly modify our (visual) experience, our experience is doxastically variable. If so, the following seems possible: our false and irrational background beliefs can modify our experience such that in it, things look distorted, or that it conforms with and appears to confirm the false and irrational beliefs that helped bring it about in the first place. If experience is doxastically variable, it seems, its epistemic function can be undermined.
However, in this dissertation, I argue that we can devise accounts of (visual) experience that meet two requirements: they are fully compatible with all kinds of doxastic variation and on them, even doxastically variable experience serves to rationally constrain our beliefs.
I begin with a novel interpretation of Hanson’s account of theory-laden observation—a valiant, yet ultimately unsuccessful attempt to meet both these requirements. Next, I analyze and reject various contemporary relationalist accounts of experience and the most sophisticated recent representationalist attempt to accommodate phenomena of doxastic variation: Siegel’s (Rich) Content View. Then, based on the lessons learned and drawing on Hanson’s and Gupta’s work, I show what shape a successful account may take.
Ultimately, I argue for the following theses: 1) Neither of the two dominant accounts of experience—relationalism and standard representationalism—currently succeeds in satisfactorily meeting both requirements. 2) To arrive at accounts that do meet them, we should drop both the restrictive relationalist conception of experience as a relation to mind-independent items and the standard representationalist conception of experience as justifying beliefs. 3) We make progress by adopting both the general conception of experience as making rational transitions to beliefs, judgments, and actions and a (slightly) modified version of Gupta’s presentationalist account of experiential phenomenology. Finally, 4) the possibility of devising successful accounts is independent of a major issue dividing relationalists and representationalists: whether experience has content.
In the final chapters, I address various follow-up questions concerning the nature of views, conceptual capacities, conceptual content, and linkages between a subject’s experience and her responses. In concluding, I show that the account of experience I recommend is widely applicable in philosophy and beyond.