Abstract Details

Phenomenality As A Perspectival Artefact  Kristjan Loorits (Helsinki, Finland)   C13

According to some prominent consciousness theories, phenomenality is a fundamental aspect of reality that cannot be reduced to the empirically accessible features of the world. Although most of these theories maintain that phenomenality is associated with certain empirical phenomena, the phenomenality itself - as something that is defined by its experiential or felt character - is assumed to leave no marks on measuring instruments or observable behavior. But if so, then the presumed existence of phenomenality would have no impact on our behavioral expressions of the idea that phenomenality exists. That consequence is sometimes called the paradox of phenomenal judgement: while phenomenality seems to be irreducible to empirical phenomena, our expressible judgements about phenomenality seem to belong to the empirically accessible domain. What is often overlooked, is that the paradox renders the fundamental phenomenality view uninformative and unconvincing, for it commits the view to the following kind of statements: "The empirically accessible basis of our behavioral capacities and tendencies is accompanied by fundamental phenomenality, although if it were not, I would still express the claim that it is." Also, since the defenders of the fundamental phenomenality view must assume that their view can be expressed, they face the difficult question of how could any empirically accessible phenomena express the existence of the empirically inaccessible phenomenality. I propose that a way to dissolve the paradox is to adopt a version of illusionism that takes phenomenality seriously without assigning it a fundamental status. The idea that phenomenality is an illusion can be understood so that phenomenality is a perspectival artefact. It is generally agreed that we can observe, describe and talk about perspectival phenomena whose manifest content is incompatible with our scientific worldview (consider stage magic). And when we do, we are not assuming that our expressions are caused by some scientifically anomalous processes that resemble the strange perspectival content. More specifically, according to the proposed view, the puzzling qualitative character of phenomenality is analogous to the perspective-induced vagueness we encounter in many domains of life. For instance, when a subject has a vague intuitive grasp of a complex mathematical proof, we do not assume that there must be something inherently vague about the proof itself or the cognitive architecture of the subject. The vagueness in question is a perspectival artefact that has no direct counterpart in the perspective-independent domain. Similarly, if the qualitative character of phenomenality is a perspectival artefact, then there is no need to look for the corresponding qualitativeness in the perspective-independent realm. Moreover, just as it is hard to describe the qualitative character of consciousness in scientific terms, it is equally hard to describe the distinctively vague content of a poorly grasped idea. As far as science aims at precise structural descriptions, the distinctively vague content escapes its descriptive scope. But just as we do not assume that the descriptively challenging vagueness is a fundamental aspect of reality, we should also reject such an assumption regarding the perspective-induced qualitativeness of consciousness.