Modeling Mental Qualities

The Philosophical Review 130 (2):263-209 (2021)
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Conscious experiences are characterized by mental qualities, such as those involved in seeing red, feeling pain, or smelling cinnamon. The standard framework for modeling mental qualities represents them via points in geometrical spaces, where distances between points inversely correspond to degrees of phenomenal similarity. This paper argues that the standard framework is structurally inadequate and develops a new framework that is more powerful and flexible. The core problem for the standard framework is that it cannot capture precision structure: for example, consider the phenomenal contrast between seeing an object as crimson in foveal vision versus merely as red in peripheral vision. The solution I favor is to model mental qualities using regions, rather than points. I explain how this seemingly simple formal innovation not only provides a natural way of modeling precision, but also yields a variety of further theoretical fruits: it enables us to formulate novel hypotheses about the space and structures of mental qualities, formally differentiate two dimensions of phenomenal similarity, generate a quantitative model of the phenomenal sorites, and define a measure of discriminatory grain. A noteworthy consequence is that the structure of the mental qualities of conscious experiences is fundamentally different from the structure of the perceptible qualities of external objects.

Author's Profile

Andrew Y. Lee
University of Toronto, St. George Campus


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