Strong Representationalism and Bodily Sensations: Reliable Causal Covariance and Biological Function

Philosophical Psychology 34 (2):210-232 (2021)
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Abstract
Bodily sensations, such as pain, hunger, itches, or sexual feelings, are commonly characterized in terms of their phenomenal character. In order to account for this phenomenal character, many philosophers adopt strong representationalism. According to this view, bodily sensations are essentially and entirely determined by an intentional content related to particular conditions of the body. For example, pain would be nothing more than the representation of actual or potential tissue damage. In order to motivate and justify their view, strong representationalists often appeal to the reliable causal covariance between bodily sensations and certain kinds of bodily conditions or to the corresponding biological function that these bodily sensations are supposed to fulfill. In this paper, I argue on the basis of recent empirical research that arguments from reliable causal covariance and biological function cannot motivate the introduction of corresponding intentional content. In particular, I argue that bodily sensations are caused by a heterogeneous class of physiological and psychological factors and their biological functions are too diverse to be reduced to the representation of a particular bodily condition. Responses are available to strong representationalists, but they either require substantial alterations to their core assumptions or incur a significant empirical burden.
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First archival date: 2020-12-07
Latest version: 2 (2021-02-23)
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2020-05-26

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