Russellian acquaintance and phenomenal concepts
- This dissertation develops a novel acquaintance-based version of the phenomenal concepts strategy for defending neurobiological accounts of consciousness against recent dualist arguments, and in the course of doing so, it explores the role that acquaintance plays in singular reference, cognition, and perception. Chapter 1 provides a careful exposition of Bertrand Russell's crucial notion of "acquaintance", or direct conscious awareness. It argues that acquaintance is an experiential relation that grounds singular reference and that is more fundamental than, and is an enabling condition for, our knowledge of truths about things. But contrary to widespread philosophical interpretation, Russell does not hold that acquaintance safeguards a subject from misidentifying the objects of his or her acquaintance. Nor does it reveal the essential nature of such objects or provide subjects with a foundation of certain or infallible knowledge on which all of our ordinary and scientific knowledge of the world rests. Chapter 1 also shows how these widespread misconceptions about acquaintance arise from standard misreading of Russell's famous "On Denoting". Chapter 2 argues that if we view acquaintance relations as the right sort of direct information relations, then we can avoid problematic naïve realist and disjunctivist theories of perceptual experience. It also advances "the problem of phenomenal indiscriminability" for disjunctivism, which challenges it to provide an epistemologically and metaphysically adequate account of non-veridical perceptual experience. The apparent inability of disjunctivism to do so suggests that it cannot fully respect "the explanatory role of experience". Chapter 2 also explains how the informational character of perceptual experience allows us to be direct realists about the content of perceptual experience. Lastly, it maintains that perceptual experience has a "two-faced presentational character" which that allows us to hold on to the idea that the subjective, qualitative character of perceptual experience is a feature of the experiential state itself. Chapter 3 presents the five main recent dualist arguments against physicalism: Chalmers' zombie argument, Jackson's knowledge argument, Kripke's modal argument, Levine's explanatory gap argument, and Chalmers' two-dimensional argument. It also explains how the phenomenal concepts strategy promises to show why there is a distinctive epistemic gap between consciousness and the physical, but no corresponding ontological gap. Lastly, it argues against popular demonstrative-recognitional and constitutional models of phenomenal concepts by showing that neither one adequately captures our epistemic situation with respect to consciousness. Finally, Chapter 4 contends that phenomenal concepts are special concepts of neurobiological/experiential states with a distinctive cognitive role: their reference is fixed by an inner demonstration to states to which we stand in special causal-informational relations—acquaintance relations—where these special relations are tied to special epistemic methods and capacities for picking up information about the states to which we are related and that provide us with distinctive conceptions of them. But these special acquaintance relations do not have epistemic or semantic features that threaten neurobiological accounts of consciousness. They do, however, explain why dualist intuitions seem powerful, even though they are mistaken. The main upshot is that we can (at least in principle) reconcile our everyday conceptions of ourselves as conscious beings with our scientific understanding of ourselves as complex biological organisms (and ultimately as complex physical systems).
|Type of resource
|electronic; electronic resource; remote
|1 online resource.
|Stanford University, Department of Philosophy
|Beisecker, David, 1967-
|Beisecker, David, 1967-
|Statement of responsibility
|Submitted to the Department of Philosophy.
|Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2012.
- © 2012 by Donovan Wishon
- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).
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