Thursday, June 30, 2011

Introspection and Acquaintance

How reliable is knowledge gained through introspection? On the one hand, we have been learning that knowledge gained through introspection is surprisingly fallible. A philosopher who has worked on bringing this fact to light is Eric Schwitzgebel. In this paper, among others, he has argued that,based on the evidence, knowledge gained from introspection is less reliable than knowledge gained in other ways. He now has a book out called Perplexities of Consciousness which looks worth reading -- see reviews here and here.

On the other hand, perhaps there is still something special about knowledge gained via introspection. Schwitzgebel participated in a debate on introspection with Brie Gertler last fall on Philosophy TV. In a draft of a forthcoming paper called "Renewed Acquaintance" (Word doc), Gertler defends a view called the acquaintance approach to introspective knowledge of phenomenal qualities (a book is forthcoming titled Self-Knowledge).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Upcoming GPPC Event: Philosophy for Children

I'm helping to organize this GPPC forum on philosophy for children coming up on October 29. I've gotten interested in this topic over the last year, and have talked to a number of smart and passionate people who are working in this field. Please check out the preliminary information below and forward to anyone you know who might be interested. This event will be free and open to the public. For updates, check the GPPC website or contact me with any questions. Thanks, and I hope to see you there!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mind-Dependent Composition

The Russellian view of the mind-body problem explains why experience has qualitative content: the natural world has qualities, and this fact poses no conflict with physics, because physics offers only a formal description of nature’s causal regularities. Our participation in the world acquaints us with these qualities (even if our knowledge is fallible about details). There is a further question, however, beyond this issue of “raw” qualitative content. Recently, in interesting comments on this old post, dnn8350 posed the question of why our experience features macroscopic objects/events and not just a flux of the micro-level entities which are fundamental in physics.*

Now, separately from philosophy of mind, metaphysicians also debate problems concerning the compositions of objects (mereology). Perhaps the problem of composition and the problem of why minds feature macroscopic clumps are related. Uriah Kriegel has a couple of papers which connect with these issues: he has a 2008 paper called “Composition as a Secondary Quality”, and now a draft of a forthcoming paper called “Kantian Monism”. The first paper addresses things from the point of view of ontological pluralism, and presents an argument that (very roughly) states that objects compose a larger composite object if it is the case that a subject would judge it to be so (I’m obviously glossing over many important details and conditions specified by Kriegel). In the new draft paper, Kriegel explores this view from the perspective of monism, and presents the case that the world decomposes into parts just in case it would appear that way to a subject in the world.

If mind-world interaction is responsible for the composition of objects (or decomposition of the world into parts), the task remains of filling in how this works, but perhaps there is a sense that we have combined two problems into one.

*I guess this question may also be related to the so-called binding problem of consciousness – that is the question of how our experience unifies various disparate sensory inputs – but I’m not sure.