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Representationalism about experience

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V041-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2005
Retrieved June 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Look at the screen before you and concentrate on the property of which you are putatively aware that makes it appropriate to call the screen white. This property – let us call it W – seems to be one you might be aware of even in a case in which the colour of the screen was a clever illusion or a hallucination. This observation has traditionally led to difficulties in saying what property W is. If one adopts the view that we cannot be aware of uninstantiated properties, one will need to say that even if the colour of the screen were an illusion, there would be something which actually had the property W. This line of thought leads in one direction to sense-datum theories, which postulate somewhat obscure mental objects to serve as the bearers of W, and in another direction, it leads to the view that W is a property of yourself, or of the events that constitute your experiencing. Against both these views, the representationalist denies that awareness of a property requires that the property be instantiated, any more than thinking about, or talking about a property requires its instantiation (we can think about winning a lottery even if we never win one). Your experience represents that something is W but this does not require that anything actually be W. This view allows the representationalist to identify W as ordinary physical whiteness (it does not require him to do this, however). Similarly for bodily sensations like pain – it allows the representationalist to say that what you are aware of when you feel pain is bodily damage in the sense that your experience represents that there is bodily damage – and that bodily damage can be the object of your awareness even if your body isn’t in fact damaged.

Citing this article:
Leeds, Stephen. Representationalism about experience, 2005, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V041-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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