What is a Phenomenal Concept?

Janet Levin/USC

 

I.Something about Mary

††††††††††† Consider Mary, begins a well-known argument, a brilliant neurophysiologist who has learned all the physical and functional facts about color vision and has perfect inferential acumen, but who (though having the potential for normal color vision) has been born and raised in a black-and-white room.Despite her theoretical knowledge, the argument continues, Mary cannot know what it’s like to see red unless she can somehow escape her black-and-white prison and see such things as boiled lobsters and strawberries.And this, the argument concludes, provides a threat to physicalism, since there must therefore be facts about color experience--namely, what it’s like to see various colors--that go beyond physical or functional facts.This is the "knowledge argument" against physicalism, first advanced by Frank Jackson.[1]

††††††††††† Most physicalists have attempted to respond to this argument by asking for a clarification of its second premise.There is something Mary lacks in her black-and-white room that can be acquired only when she begins to have normal color experience, most physicalists acknowledge, but what?What exactly does it take to know what it's like to have a certain sort of experience--and does the fact that Mary lacks that sort of knowledge in her black-and white room really threaten physicalism? ††††††††

††††††††††† One of the first suggestions from physicalists (Nemirow, Lewis) was that all Mary lacks in the B&W room is a certain set of abilities--abilities, for example, to imagine having color experiences, or perhaps to remember them, or predict what she will think or do once she has them.Knowing what it's like to have a certain experience, they suggest, is just to have one ormore of these abilities wrt the experience in question.After all, they maintain, the only relevant facts there could be about what it's like to have certain experiences are facts about their causal-functional roles; indeed, about the causal-functional roles that common sense takes them to have.And Mary has access to all these facts, even in her B&W room.But if all Mary gains when she begins to have color experience is a kind of practical knowledge, then physicalism is safe, since acquiring practical knowledge of this sort is not to acquire access to any non-physical, irreducibly phenomenal, facts.

††††††††††† This view, however, did not make much headway in the debate with the dualists.First, they argued, it doesn't seem as if there could be enough "common sense" functional descriptions to exhaust all the relevant facts about the experiences we can distinguish in introspection.What, for example, do we commonly know about the causal roles of the experiences of red and green that can distinguish us from our counterparts with an inverted spectrum; and is there anything we know at all about that inconsequential pain I had yesterday in my left elbow?I myself think that the common sense functionalist can get farther than one may first think; that a little creative tweaking of our notion of "common knowledge" to include judgments about experiential similarities and dissimilarities, wrested from us by an aggressive Socratic questioner, may help a lot. But there's a second, more serious worry, namely, that even if future analyses provide subtle and sophisticated descriptions that do manage to make these distinctions, it just seems implausible that what Mary acquires when she leaves her B&W room is merely a set of practical abilities, rather than something more cognitive, something that can figure in judgments and inference--in short, something that seems very much like knowledge of facts.

††††††††††† These days, moreover, many physicalists concur.Most recent physicalist responses to the knowledge argument agree that, in coming to know what it's like to see colors, Mary has indeed acquired a new set of facts that were not available to her in her B&W room. But, they add--contrary to the claims of the dualists, her acquisition of these facts does not threaten physicalism.Knowing what it's like to see red, they argue, does not involve access to a set of irreducibly phenomenal properties of color vision, but merely to a new set of concepts that denote some of the very neural or functional properties that Mary has learned about, under different descriptions, in her black-and-white room.And insofar as the use of these new concepts or representations in one's knowledge claims counts as knowledge of new facts, Mary can be said to have learned new facts.Terence Horgan was among the first to propose a view of this sort, and Brian Loar has worked it out in perhaps the greatest detail.

††††††††††† These special phenomenal concepts, such theorists acknowledge, are radically different from the concepts that standardly figure in intertheoretic reductions:they are irreducibly phenomenal--that is, not equivalent to any physicalistic, topic-neutral, or other discursive concepts--and we (normally) can acquire them only by having, and being aware of, experiences with the properties they purport to denote.However, physicalists argue, since these irreducibly phenomenal concepts denote old, familiar neural or functional properties, then Mary's having acquired new concepts and thereby access to new facts will not threaten physicalism.

††††††††††† Could this physicalist strategy possibly work?There is a line of argument that suggests it can't.The idea here is that if two distinct, conceptually unconnected, concepts or representations denote the same property, they must do so by describing distinct (higher-order) properties or modes of presentations of it.Otherwise (as Nagel might put it), there is no explanation of how the referential paths of these unconnected concepts could converge.But, by hypothesis, the concepts Mary acquires when she leaves the B&W room are unconnected to any physical or functional concepts--since otherwise she would have been able to acquire these concepts, and thus figure out what it's like to see red, while still in her B&W room--just by reflecting on the concepts she already possessed.Thus, these irreducibly phenomenal concepts can pick out a physical state or property only by describing some non-physical mode of presentation of it!

††††††††††† This is sometimes called the Distinct Property Argument, which has most recently been advanced by Stephen White. It derives from a Fregean theory of reference, and has been regarded as plausible whether one thinks these associated descriptions explicate the meaning or merely fix the reference of the terms or concepts in question.This argument provides one of the prime motivations for property dualism.But it's also (again, at least arguably) the prime motivation for common sense functionalist views that attempt to analyze, or explicate, our ordinary experiential concepts in functional terms--and hold to the line that all Mary acquires, when leaving her black-and-white room, are new abilities.

††††††††††† However, the "new concept" physicalists argue, there is another model of how irreducibly phenomenal concepts denote that undercuts the DPA.A better alternative, they suggest, is to think of them as functioning somewhat like demonstrative terms or concepts, which are also irreducible to anything discursive. That is, in much the way that demonstratives like 'this' and 'that' pick out their referents, irreducibly phenomenal concepts can refer "directly" to the properties--presumably neural (or perhaps psychofunctional)--we discriminate in introspection.This means that they can denote without introducing either meaning explicating or "reference-fixing" descriptions of higher-order properties, or modes of presentation, whose nature (physical or non-physical) would in turn be open to debate.In addition--and again, much like demonstratives--in applying these concepts to ourselves in introspection, we can acquire non-inferential, or epistemically "direct", knowledge of the qualitative properties of our experiences.

††††††††††† Most "new concept" physicalists (as I'll call them) suggest that these demonstrative-like phenomenal concepts denote whatever physical properties are causally responsible for our application of these concepts in various introspective tasks (given of course, that there are such properties; if not, we're stuck with either dualism or eliminativism).But which introspective tasks? This depends, in part, on whether we're interested in type or token phenomenal concepts.According to many of these views, I can use a token phenomenal concept to pick out an instance of the salient qualitative character of my current experience just by attending to it in introspection:whatever (neural) property-token causes me to make introspective note of some experience I'm now having counts as the denotation of the token demonstrative "that" (where I intend, of course, to pick out the experience I'm having now).[2]And if our experience at a time exhibits more than one instance of salient qualitative features (as would simultaneously having a pain, hearing a noise, and seeing red, or seeing, simultaneously, two different shades of red), then we can denote these property-tokens, respectively, as 'this', 'that', etc., as long as we can discriminate among them at thattime.Token demonstrative concepts, like so many useful items, are to be used once and thrown away; they don't have to be stored in memory, and their referential success implies nothing about the user's ability to recognize other such experiences as experiences of that kind.Because of this, however, their usefulness in explaining our introspective knowledge of phenomenal states--and thus, perhaps, our knowledge of what it's like to have them--may be limited, since the function of token demonstrative concepts is to pick out instances of phenomenal properties, and not those properties themselves.

††††††††††† Type demonstratives, on the other hand, are different. These demonstratives ("that kind (of experience)") are supposed to pick out kinds or properties from an introspective perspective, and not just instances of them that occur at various times.What, then, determines which kind or property a type-demonstrative used in introspection denotes?The standard answer to this question is that the denotation of a type-demonstrative concept used to pick out a property in introspection is determined by the disposition of the concept-user to recognize or re-identify further mental states as experiences of that type.(This is the way Loar talks about it, for example.) I f we manage, fairly consistently, to pick out the same property when noting, "Oh, that (twinge) again" or writing "S" in our diary, we can be said to be using a phenomenal type-demonstrative.[3]Type-demonstrative concepts are the ones that do the heavy lifting on this view, since we're interested in giving an account of how we (including Mary) can have a special sort of first-personal access to a property, a repeatable--so these have been the focus of this promising new approach.

††††††††††† But for all its apparent promise, it hasn't been clear that the demonstrative view provides an adequate account of phenomenal concepts.There has been a rising tide of criticism of it--not surprisingly by property dualists such as David Chalmers, but also, recently, by physicalists such as Terence Horgan.Criticism from both directions has focused on one particular worry, namely, that these concepts are being invoked for what seem to be incompatible tasks:To avoid the "distinct property" objection, they must be purely recognitional, or type-demonstrative, concepts--individuated solely by an individual's dispositions to "go on" to identify more instances of that type.On the other hand, they must be robust enough to account for what Mary seems to acquire when she leaves her B&W room.If these concepts are sufficiently "thin" to denote the way a demonstrative does--that is, by serving merely as a pointer directed at a type of experience--the worry goes, then maybe they are too thin to account for what seems to be the rich and detailed knowledge of what it's like to have an experience which only experience itself seems to provide.[4]

††††††††††† So, according to the critics of this view, physicalists still haven't captured what goes on when someone comes to know what it's like to have an experience.The "ability hypothesis" tried to avoid the distinct property objection by taking this knowledge, many think implausibly, to be pure practical knowledge, while the type-demonstrative theory tries to avoid this objection by taking this knowledge, many think implausibly, to amount to nothing more than a pallid pointing in.I've been worried about this problem, and in a recent paper (PPR, May 2002), I suggest that phenomenal concepts may best be viewed as hybrids with demonstrative and discursive elements.But I've been thinking, more recently, that a pure type-demonstrative theory may also be able todo better than it first may seem--if, that is, it acknowledges a certain complexity in what goes on when we acquire demonstrative concepts.These speculations, interestingly, were prompted by a fairly recent article by Diana Raffman, "On the Persistence of Phenomenology", which mounts a serious and sustained criticism of the type-demonstrative view.

††††††††††† In her article, Raffman cites some interesting facts about human psychology that suggest that the type-demonstrative theory runs into a difficulty analogous to what many take to be a major problem for the ability hypothesis, namely, that there aren't enough type-demonstrative concepts to do justice to the discriminations we can make among our experiences in introspection.Raffman takes these facts toraise insoluble problems for the type-demonstrative account of knowing what it's like--and therefore (on the assumption that this is indeed the best physicalist response to the knowledge argument) for physicalism itself.What I'll argue, though, is that these observations don't make trouble for the type-demonstrative view--or at least don't cause more problems than the ones we've already identified.In fact, as I'll argue, they may even suggest a way to combine the virtues of the type-demonstrative and functional accounts of phenomenal concepts to provide a more satisfying physicalistic explanation of the knowledge Mary acquires when she comes to know what it's like to have an experience of a certain type.

 

II.Raffman's observation

††††††††††† Raffman's worry is this:According to a number of psychologists, normal subjects can discriminate (that is, discern just noticeable differences (jnd's) among) far more shades of color than they can re-identify over time; our "perceptual memory", that is, just isn't that good.[5]For example (her example), subjects can discriminate subtly different shades of red (say, red-31 from red-32 and red-33) when presented with them simultaneously, but can't consistently pick out red-31 (instead of red-32 and red-33) as "that (color I just saw)" when the various shades are presented one-by-one.The same will be true, presumably, when subjects attempt to reidentify the qualitative properties of their color experiences as well.

††††††††††† Thus, if having a (type-)phenomenal concept of a certain perceivable or experiential property requires the ability to re-identify the property when encountering it by itself (as well as being able to discriminate it from others), then we can't have (type-)phenomenal concepts of such finely individuated shades as red-31 and red-32.We may have discursive or "theoretical" concepts of them, concepts such as "the shade that normal subjects judge to be three jnd units from unique red"; we may have coarser-grained phenomenal concepts, which permit the re-identification of shades in a band between red-31 and red-34; and, of course, we may have token-demonstrative concepts of instances of these determinate shades.But (just as many claim to be the case on the functional view) the range of our phenomenal type-demonstrative concepts of color experience falls short of the range of color experiences we can discriminate in introspection (when they're simultaneously displayed).

††††††††††† Now Raffman argues that these facts about human perceptual memory cast doubt on the claim that knowing what it's like to have experiences with various qualitative characters is merely a matter of applying demonstrative-like concepts to neural states that can also be identified in other ways.I'm not clear, however, why this should be so.Perhaps the worry is this:if knowledge of what it's like to see red-31 depends on our ability to identify that property consistently upon presentation, then there can be no physicalistic account of how a person who is currently discriminating red-31 from other shades in introspection knows what it's like to see red-31. But clearly such a person would have this knowledge:if Mary were to be presented with a sample of red-31 upon leaving her B&W room, she'd describe herself as now (finally!) knowing what it's like to see red-31.So physicalism can't account for what Mary comes to know.

††††††††††† Physicalists, however, have a response to these worries. (suggested by, though perhaps not equivalent to, the line Michael Tye takes on the ability hypothesis in his new book.[6])They could respond by suggesting that our notion of knowing what it's like is ambiguous.In one sense, anyone who can in fact discriminate the experience of some particular shade--say, red-31--from others in introspection counts as knowing what it's like to experience that shade.All that this sort of knowledge requires is the ability to apply, in introspection, a token-demonstrative concept to an instance of a particular neural property.As long as there's a physical distinction between the property-tokens we can discriminate in simultaneous presentation by applying token-demonstratives to them, we've managed to denote them in a physicalistically acceptable way.

††††††††††† But in another, more substantive sense, those who cannot consistently reidentify the experience of a shade as fine-grained as red-31, or recognize instances of it when it occurs by itself in introspection, do not know what it's like to see red-31 (rather than, say, what it's like to see an instance of a broader band of the red spectrum that includes red-31).This sort of knowledge--that is, knowledge of a phenomenal repeatable--requires more than just an ability to point to an instance of it in introspection; it requires, at very least, the ability to reidentify, or recognize, other instances of it at different times, in different contexts.In this sense, of course, Mary may not know what it's like to see red-31 even after she leaves her B&W room and stares, attentively, right at a rose of that color.And, if Raffman's facts are correct, the same is true of most of us.But though this inability may reflect badly on human memory and categorization capacities--and thus on our capacity to know what it's like to see colors in the more robust, substantive sense--I can't see why it should reflect badly on physicalism.

††††††††††† Raffman might argue that it just does seem that, in looking at that red-31, red-31 rose, Mary can grasp a repeatable phenomenal property of her experience; that is, she can know what it's like to see red-31 in the second,.more substantive sense.And if physicalists can't explain this, they must concede that what Mary has grasped is a new. non-physical property of experience.Thus, a (type-demonstrative) physicalist must deny that Mary has this second sort of knowledge.But this, on reflection, shouldn't be so hard:physicalists, after all, can acknowledge that

Mary can know what it's like to see red-31 in the first sense, since she can pick out the experience with her token-demonstrative, and also--in defense of their claim that Mary does not have more substantive knowledge--point to how quickly, once the rose is removed from sight, the memory fades.

††††††††††† Nor should it bother physicalists that our ability to reidentify colors (and thus, presumably, color experiences) seems to exhibit unexpected asymmetries.Raffman points out that a physicalist can't just claim that our type-phenomenal concepts of color experiences (and consequently, the color experiences we can know what it's like to have, in the second, substantive sense) are uniformly coarse-grained; that though we have phenomenal concepts of a fairly broad band of red experiences and green experiences--or even maybe indigo and chartreuse experiences--we just don't have concepts as fine-grained as red-31 or red-32.But this claim, she continues, would be equally untrue to the facts, since people are in fact very good at re-identifying--not just discriminating in simultaneous presentation--the "unique" shades of red, green, yellow and blue, even though they occupy an equally fine-grained place in our color quality space.("Unique" red, by the way, is what we might call "pure" red; a red with no yellow or blue in it at all; same for the other three "unique" shades.)

††††††††††† This might, though Raffman doesn't herself bring it up, suggest the following worry:Here's Mary, just out of her B&W room, being presented (congratulations!) with two roses, one that's red-31 and one that's unique red.As she's looking at them and reflecting on her new experiences, it may seem that she has equal grasp of their phenomenal properties.But, on the type-demonstrative view, she has knowledge, in the second, substantive, sense only of what it's like to see unique red.And this may seem counterintuitive, at best.As in the last case, however, the physicalist ought to be able to dispel this illusion by pointing out that these intuitions can be upheld by the observation that Mary does have equal knowledge of what it's like to have the experience tokens in question, and predicting that as soon as the roses are taken away, and Mary is left with the ability to conjure up the memory of red, but not red-31, our intuition that she possesses equal knowledge of the types will fade.

††††††††††† It's true that if we take the ability to recognize or reidentify some property as necessary for having a (type) phenomenal concept of it, then these concepts comprise what may seem to be an odd amalgam of the coarse- and fine-grained.But once again, this result, though perhaps surprising, should not be damaging to physicalism, since the demonstrative theorist has an account of how both token- and type-demonstratives--whatever their range--can denote physical properties.If we're to take psychology seriously in developing an account of phenomenal concepts--and of knowing what it's like--then these asymmetries are just the facts of life.And they should not be all that surprising, since there are many other familiar cases (smell, touch) in which the differences we can discriminate among various physical stimuli imperfectly reflect the differences that--from a physical point of view--there are.[7]

††††††††††† Still, the asymmetries Raffman cites have interest independent of their consequences for physicalism.It may be true, given these observations, that on the type-demonstrative view (just as on the common sense functional view) we can't know what it's like, in the substantive sense, to have all the experiences we can discriminate in introspection, since these outstrip the experiences for which we have type-demonstrative concepts.But reflection on a related phenomenon involving discrimination and recognition, also discussed by Raffman, may prompt us to take a different view of what's involved in the acquisition and use of type-demonstrative phenomenal concepts, and thus suggest that physicalistic accounts of knowing what it's like may be more intuitively satisfying than one may initially think.

††††††††††† The phenomenon in question is that we seem to be able to increase the range of our phenomenal concepts, at least to some degree, through explicit instruction.For example, people who have taken a course in music appreciation or wine-tasting will report that they are now able to recognize, or identify consistently, sounds or tastes that they were never able to recognize before.Raffman herself acknowledges that our capacities for re-identification can be enhanced, given the proper instruction, although she maintains that they can't be expanded enough to permit us to re-identify all the shades we can discriminate in simultaneous presentation.Still, if they can be expanded all, this would mean that, though there may be fixed psychological limitations to our discriminative abilities (and thus, if you will, our token-phenomenal concepts), we can, through training, enhance our knowledge, in the second, more robust sense, of what it's like to have an experience. My aim, in the next section, is to ask what this training or instruction might involve, and what consequences it may have for our views about phenomenal concepts and "knowing what it's like".

 

III.Increasing our stock of phenomenal concepts††††††††

††††††††††† Let's suppose that the "quality spaces" associated with each type of perceivable property are innate; that is, that anyone with our psychology (and no particular training) can distinguish just the same colors, tastes, sounds, etc. in the standard jnd experiments. And let's suppose--just a supposition!--that I'm not, naturally, particularly good at remembering tastes or sounds--or colors.Still, after a music appreciation or wine-tasting (or interior decorating) course, I may be able to re-identify more sounds or tastes or colors than I can right now (if not all the ones I can discriminate).

††††††††††† Suppose, then, that after a class in interior decorating, I become able to recognize more fine-grained shades of red than I was able to recognize before.[8]What could I have been taught in this class to have enhanced my perceptual memory--and thus my recognitional capacities--in this way?The fact that we can make fine-grained comparative discriminations between red-31 and red-32 in simultaneous presentations seems important to this process, but clearly it can't be sufficient, for if it were I'd have no recognitional deficiencies to remedy.

††††††††††† As I see it, there are two (broadly characterizable) ways our recognitional abilities could be enhanced.On one view, a subject is given explicit theoretical information about just where in our color quality space a certain target shade lies, and just what its relations are to other shades.For example, suppose that, when a number of colors are presented simultaneously, we learn to describe or think of red-31 as 'the shade closer to unique red (along some dimension) than red-32'--and then perhaps as 'the shade n jnd steps from unique red'.On this view, an individual attempting to expand her range of color concepts can be seen as attempting to re-identify the experience of a certain target shade of red (red-31, say) by consciously applying information she has learned about its position in color quality space to her current experience.That is, she might come to recognize a new instance of red-31, eventually, as the same shade she focused on before by imagining or remembering an experience of unique red (by hypothesis, easy and natural for everyone), and comparing it to her current experience.(This is the sort of thing, I take it, that's sometimes taught in wine-tasting courses:you're first given a wine with some easily identifiable taste, and then shown how to compare it to others that differ along various dimensions.)To do this, of course, she'd not only have to know that red-31 was, say, six jnd steps away from unique red, but also be able to remember or imagine the experience of unique red and the interval scale between unique red and red-31.The extent to which imaginative memory can reconstruct the intervals along some qualitative dimension by which various shades can fall away from unique red, and keep track of how far away a shade is from some reference point, will determine the scope and limits of our ability to reidentify new color properties, or, analogously, new phenomenal properties in introspection.Presumably, some people will be better at it than others.But it also, on this view, requires the application of explicit information about the interrelationships among the shades.

††††††††††† Now suppose that someone gets good at this procedure, and becomes able to reidentify the experience of red-31 consistently, without having to haul out this explicit comparative information or those imagined paradigms.Such things do happen, after all. Music appreciation and wine tasting and even, I would imagine, interior decorating classes do, at least sometimes, serve to provide people with the ability to home in, quickly and smoothly, on experiences they were incapable of reidentifying before.Can we thus think of them as deploying new purely recognitional concepts, rather than applying theoretical concepts to the cases at hand?I want to argue that the answer, plausibly, is "yes".

††††††††††† One might raise the worry that the reidentifications one learns to make in this way could not be sufficiently "direct" to count as the deployment of pure recognitional concepts, since, first, it presumably takes some time to develop these abilities, and second, they are, at least initially, informed by the explicit comparisons I described above.The first worry, however, does not seem so serious, since there are many cases in which one's abilities to recognize a certain type of thing has been shaped by explicit instruction, even when the identification is made solely on the basis of its "naturally" salient features--its look or its feel.Think, for example, of experienced doctors who can diagnose cancer before the biopsy results come in.

††††††††††† It's true, of course, as the example above suggests, that in many cases in which it takes awhile to identify some object as belonging to a particular kind, the kind in question is physically complex.And one might think that this does not hold for my hypothetical identification of red-31.Or, at the very least, one might resist the suggestion that red-31 (or the experience of it) is any more complex than unique red (or the experience of it), which presumably can be easily remembered and recognized right away.These asymmetries, however, may have a plausible explanation, since it shouldn't be surprising that what counts as recognitionally simple and complex may not be determined by what's physically simple and complex.Differences in recognitional abilities for a uniform physical domain may be produced by idiosyncracies in processing, evolutionary effects on detection mechanisms, or various other phenomena--both for external phenomena and one's own experiential states.

††††††††††† But in the end, these asymmetries, whatever their explanation, shouldn't matter to the question of whether an ability to reidentify red-31, acquired in the way I described, is as "direct" as the more (allegedly) natural ability to reidentify unique red if they end up working in the same way.After all, the acquisition of many kinds of skills involves a progression in which one analyzes the skill in question, breaks it down into a sequence of components, then practices and practices until it becomes second nature.A skill that's second nature, of course, is not initially natural and automatic; hence its name.But it becomes natural and automatic in time; one comes, after practice, to be able to perform the task, or exhibit the skill, quickly and unthinkingly.If the ability to reidentify shades like red-31 becomes second nature in this sense, then there's reason to think that we've acquired a new recognitional concept.

††††††††††† Or better, there's reason to think so if the reference of these concepts is determined in a certain way.Concepts acquired as I've described might be taken to determine their referents in a way that is part demonstrative and part discursive; that is, they may be taken to refer to whatever property in fact bears the relevant relation to some paradigm--whether or not the subject using the concept would identify that property as the kind she had in mind.In this case, the concept wouldn't be a pure type-demonstrative (though it may include a demonstrative element).However, if the reference of the concept is determined solely by the subject's disposition to reidentify items as another one of those, then it should count as a pure demonstrative concept, regardless of how much explicit comparison, or other application of theory, was involved in its acquisition.In such a case the explicit information will be solely of heuristic value, merely functioning to shape a new recognitional ability which alone determines the referential reach of its associated (pure) type-demonstrative concept.[9]

††††††††††† The former view--that is, that these concepts may be partially demonstrative and partially discursive--is a view of phenomenal concepts I suggested in a recent paper (PPR, May 2002), hoping to capture the intuitive force of the demonstrative analogy, while reserving a role for what seems to be the robustness of the knowledge that experience provides.But it now seems to me that the latter view--that is, that these concepts are pure demonstratives, underlain by dispositions shaped by explicit information--does just as well on both these fronts, if not better.

††††††††††† That is, if theoretical information of the sort I've discussed figures in the acquisition and deployment of pure demonstrative concepts, the physicalist can make the following claims.First, what someone gains from experience, in coming to know what it's like to have it, is--as the type-demonstrative theorists suggest--a new set of concepts that are not equivalent to any concepts she already possesses, and which denote directly, on the model of demonstratives, without needing to invoke metaphysically suspicious modes of presentation.And second, in at least some (and maybe most) cases, one has to know a lot about the properties in question, in particular their interrelations with others in the relevant quality space, to acquire the concepts--a phenomenon which accounts for the intuition that what one gains in knowing what it's like to see red or feel pain is interesting and substantial.So, if this view of how we acquire new recognitional concepts is plausible, the physicalist may be able to have it both ways:phenomenal concepts can have the referential role of type-demonstratives, but their acquisition may still require a person to know a lot about the interrelations among the properties they denote.

††††††††††† But, one might object, the view is not plausible in the least.What happens when we acquire new recognitional concepts is something much less cognitively complex, something that doesn't require anything like these explicit comparisons or other applications of theory that I've described.What goes on in wine-tasting or interior decorating classes--let alone what goes on when our recognitional dispositions are "naturally" shaped by our interactions with the world--is closer to a "paradigm-foil" model of generalization learning than to anything like what I've described.

††††††††††† That is, even in getting explicit instruction in how to reidentify a color or taste or sound, one is shown an example of the target item, and perhaps one (the foil) that's quite different along a certain dimension, and told, when one tries to generalize to further instances, whether or not one did so correctly--without being told just why one's attempt to generalize was correct or incorrect.In this case, one could increase one's range of recognitional abilities, and thus phenomenal concepts, without appeal to any explicit comparisons or other theoretical information at all. Maybe this is a more reasonable view of how recognitional abilities are enhanced by instruction.And maybe it's also a reasonable view of how we 'naturally"--that is, without explicit instruction--come to recognize items in the world as belonging to one or another kind (and even, perhaps, of how innate proclivities to generalize may have been shaped by selective pressures).

††††††††††† If so, however, then the smooth deployment of recognitional concepts would still require a significant amount of knowledge on the part of the subjects who deploy them.This wouldn't be explicit knowledge of the salient features of the items recognized as "one of that kind", or even of the similarities and differences between that kind and others, but rather the implicit knowledge of these similarities and differences that shaped (by the paradigm-foil method) the recognitional dispositions in question. Nonetheless, possession of these recognitional dispositions--and thus the pure type-demonstrative phenomenal concepts they determine--brings a lot to the table; enough, I'd venture, to explain how Mary, in acquiring such dispositions after leaving her black and white room, manages to know so much.Thus to the question, "So this is a phenomenal concept?", the answer may in the end be a tentative "yes".[10]



[1]See Frank Jackson, “Epiphenomenal Qualia”, “What Mary Didn’t Know”.

 

[2]Focusing on, or taking introspective note of, some feeling (or property of it) can, I presume, be given a functional characterization;I will leave this issue aside for now.†† Also, I don't want to suggest that a creature who uses a token demonstrative to pick out an instance of some feeling must have anything but a demonstrative concept of an experience. 

 

[3]Clearly, there seem to be affinities between the ability hypothesis and the view that what Mary acquires is a special set of type-demonstrative concepts, given that these concepts are individuated by a subject's dispositions to recognize or reidentify experiences of a certain type.Here, too, it seems that what Mary acquires upon leaving her B&W room is an ability--not necessarily to imagine seeing red, or predict what she'll think or do when she sees it, but to recognize or re-identify red--and the experience of it--when it presents itself again.Indeed, some versions of the ability hypothesis (like the one Michael Tye advances in a discussion of it in his new book) may just amount to notational variants of the type-demonstrative view sketched above.

††††††††††††††† To be sure, to call this a version of the ability hypothesis may seem to violate the principle from which its classical versions arose, namely, that what we gain from experience is merely the ability to apply to oneself--non-inferentially, in introspection--(implicitly known) functional descriptions which (at least more or less) explicate our concepts of experience.On these views, then, not only would Mary not gain access to new properties when she leaves her B&W room, but she wouldn't even gain a new set of concepts.This, I take it, is Lewis's view, and I endorsed it in my "Heatwave" paper, primarily because of worries about the "distinct property" argument against physicalism that I just described.As I've suggested in the text, however, the view that phenomenal concepts work like type-demonstratives--referring "directly" to experiential properties--may put these worries to rest. And I'll argue, in the final section, that there are important (and perhaps surprising) affinities between even the classic version of the ability hypothesis and the type-demonstrative account of phenomenal concepts.

 

[4]One might wonder if even sufficiently "thin" type-demonstrative concepts can avoid some version of the Distinct Property Objection. As John Hawthorne has suggested, a rational person, told that the qualia on the right side of her visual field may "dance" without her knowledge during a certain time period, may wonder whether even the statement "this (pointing in to a reddish quale on the left) = this (simultaneously pointing in to a reddish quale on the right)"--and so a Frege-problem may arise for this case.†† (Hawthorne himself uses his case to argue a different point, namely, the incompatibility of direct reference theories of phenomenal properties with the possibility of zombies.)

††††††††††††††† It seems to me, however, that not every case in which one can rationally doubt a true identity statement of the form "x=y" is a case in which 'x' and 'y' denote their referents via distinct modes of presentation.What makes the subject hesitant in the case described above is not (necessarily) some difference in how the reference of the terms is "mediated" or "presented", but only because one's capacities for perception or judgment have been challenged by someone it's rational to trust.(Compare Descartes's self-described situation with respect to God and the "eternal truths" in his Letter to Mersenne.) In such a case, doubt about the identitystatement, and even the possible falsity of the statement-- is compatible with its a priority:if we knowthat x=y, we know it a priori.

 

[5]See her (1995), where she poses the problem I discuss in the text as a problem for materialism.

 

[6]He suggests that knowing what it's like to see red 31 is a matter of actually discriminating a token of it in introspection (when one is actually having thatexperience) or (in its absence) having the ability to recognize, remember or imagine that shade when presented on its own.See Tye (2000).

 

[7]Noting asymmetries if this sort may also be of interest for the question of whether we have cross-modal perceptual concepts of "primary qualities" such as shapes.It may be, that is, that--as a matter of psychological fact--a "man born blind and made to see" a la Molyneux can identify, upon first viewing them, certain shapes, but not others, that he's touched before:squares and circles, say, vs. lines and curves.If this is so, then any recognition-based test for the cross-modal transfer of concepts would have to be constructed quite carefully.,

 

[8]Raffman reports that psychologists agree that we can't even learn how to recognize all the shades we can discriminate in simultaneous presentation, but I'll nonetheless refer to the shades in question as 'red-31' and 're-32'; in fact, what we can learn to recognize may well correspond only to broader bands of the spectrum.

 

[9]Contrast this view with the "classic" ability hypothesis (as well as other views of the self-ascription of mental states such as Sellars's and Armstrong's), in which recognitional dispositions prompted by various properties of the states in question, serve merely as heuristics for the identification of phenomenal states which can be overruled if they conflict with the results of a functional description.

 

[10]An earlier version of this paper was read at UC Riverside in November, 2001.I'm very grateful to Eric Schwitzgebel for his helpful comments and criticisms.