Monday, May 31, 2010

The Myth of Determinate Phenomenology

This is Part 7 of the serialization of the long version of my paper, "Color-Consciousness Conceptualism," the short version of which appeared in the Second Annual Conference of Consciousness Online. This post contains section 7 of the paper.

7. Phenomenological Objections and Replies (Determinateness)
7.1. Raffman’s determinateness objection and my reply

Raffman (1995) presents an argument designed to block the sort of conceptualism that the Second Approximation exemplifies. Call Raffman’s supplement to the Diachronic Indistinguishability Argument the “Determinateness Argument.” In the Determinateness Argument, Raffman claims that it won’t do to say that our experience is only as determinate as we have determinate concepts for (we do have determinate concepts of the unique hues green, blue, red, and yellow), and merely determinable otherwise (we have only determinable concepts for non-unique hues like dark-reddish-orange). Raffman points out that there’s no introspectible difference between the ways in which unique and non-unique hues appear with respect to their ‘determinateness’ despite the radically different ways we have to conceptualize them. (Raffman 1995 pp. 301-302).

Raffman’s argument concerning determinateness seems to overlook a powerful resource available to the conceptualist. Raffman overlooks the possibility that the failure of seeming differences with respect to determinateness may simply be due to a failure to apply a concept of determinateness. Just as the conceptualist will model differences in apparent darkness in terms of the application of a relational concept of one color being darker than another, so may the conceptualist model differences in apparent determinateness in terms of the application of a relational concept of one hue or one experience of hue as being more determinate than another. Thus, the failures of appearance with respect to determinateness that Raffman refers to may be regarded by the conceptualist as due to normal perceivers simply failing to apply any such concept of determinateness to their experiences.

7.2. Is phenomenology indeterminate?
The nonconceptualist may hold that conceptualism is manifestly implausible, that phenomenology reveals a much higher frequency than conceptualism allows of experiences of maximally determinate color shades. The nonconceptualist may take it that an appeal to phenomenology can decide (or help decide)in favor of the dispute between nonconceptualism and the present form of conceptualism. In particular, the nonconceptualist may wish to hold that it is phenomenologicallly obvious, for instance, that in the simultaneous presentation of blue1 and blue2, the content of experience is not exhausted by the determinable content, two shades of light blue, one darker than the other. The nonconceptualist may wish to offer, as grounded in phenomenological reflection, that our experiences take a stand on which determinate shades of light blue the left and right paint chips happen to be.

However, I think the conceptualist is right to reject such an alleged appeal to phenomenology as a question-begging assertion that experience is determinate in a way the conceptualist denies.


Let’s suppose for conversation’s sake that an object that is blue is only one of 25 determinate shades of blue (blue1-blue25). It’s consistent with the conceptualism I am here defending that on a discriminating encounter with two objects that are blue1 and blue15, respectively, a subject consciously experiences them in a coarse-grained way as one’s being a darker blue than the other. However, that’s not the only way the content might turn out and still be consistent with my coarse conceptualism. Other options of possible contents include (1) one color’s being only slightly darker blue than the other (where the coarse-grained concept SLIGHTLY DARKER THAN is deployed), (2) one color’s being some determinate degree of darkness darker blue than the other (where the coarse-grained concepts deployed remain open on which determinate degree of darkness it is), and (3) one color’s being some determinate shade of blue distinct from the determinate shade of the other (where the coarse-grained concept DETERMINATE SHADE is deployed in a manner leaving open which determinate shades are present).

The nonconceptualist needs to provide some argument that our experiences do take a stand about which determinate shades are present, and thus an argument that characterizations such as (1)-(3) are inadequate for capturing the content of color consciousness. However, it’s not clear that the nonconceptualist has such an argument at hand.

Perhaps a charitable reading of the nonconceptualist here is as presenting a phenomenological argument, an argument that has as implicit premises propositions concerning how our experiences seem upon introspection. However, such an appeal to introspection may be easily countered by the conceptualist along the lines I sketched against the Determinateness Argument. It may seem to us that our experience is of determinate shades because we deploy, in introspection, an existentially quantified conceptualization that there are some distinct determinate shades present. It may very well be the case that it seems to us in introspection that our experience takes a stand on which determinate shades are present without it being the case that there are determinate shades that experience takes a stand on. Compare: I can believe that there is some particular man in the next room without there being a particular man that I believe to be in the next room. I hear a solitary manly voice from the next room over. I figure that it must be some particular man (what other kind of man could it be? A non-particular man?). But for each particular man I have beliefs about, I do not have a belief that commits me to that particular man being the one making the manly racket.