Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Dilemma for Deniers of a priori Intuition

In our Self-evidence reading group, Earl has several times expressed skepticism about there being a phenomenology associated with a priori intuition (what we'll call the mode of grasping a self-evident proposition). A couple of times he's seemed to indicate that, parallel to Hume's statement about the self, he just doesn't see anything when he looks inside for such things.

It could be that in the back of his mind is something like the following assumption.

(FA1) Necessarily, for every experience E, E's phenomenal character is constituted by at least one of the sensuous characters associated with the five sensory modalities and my nothing else.

I think (FA1) pretty clearly false though, so I'm not sure what Earl is thinking. I here offer a dilemma on behalf of such qualia.

Definitions
D1 Necessarily, for any experience E, E has phenomenal character just in case there's something it's like to have that experience.
D2. Necessarily, for any experience E, E's phenomenal character is what it feels like to host E.
D3. A phenomenal concept =df a concept one can have only by being in a certain experience.

Argument A
1. Either there's something it's like to grasp the validity of modus ponens.
2. If there is not something it's like to grasp the validity of modus ponens, then no one has ever known they've grasped modus ponens.
3. But some have known they've grasped modus ponens.
4. Thus, there's something it's like to grasp modus ponens.


In a forthcoming paper Rich and Earl say that one's evidence that one is frustrated can include "a palpable sense of your own frustration". Now "palpable" is ambiguous in just the way "felt" is. It can mean felt with the five senses or felt in some broader sense. I see no reason to think that one could not have evidence that one is frustrated apart from how one looks, smells, sounds, feels, or tastes to oneself (though one can have such evidence).

It could be that the ambiguity is there on purpose to put off discussion of phenomenology, but I think such cases depend on introspective phenomenology and so we've got a more general dilemma stemming from all the things we think we know that we wouldn't if introspective phenomenology didn't provide evidence.

4 Comment(s):

  • Trent,

    Is it really the case that Earl has expressed skepticism about there being a phenomenology associated with a priori intuition rather than just skepticism about there being self-evident propositions? (I'm genuinely asking; my memory fails to come up with any really clear instances.)

    The main reason I ask is that it seems to me that Earl has almost explicitly identified such a phenomenology in some of his recent material. Here's a quote from "First Things First" in the Evidentialism book:

    "A final, new skeptical question can be asked:

    "What non-question-begging reason have we for the claim that what intuitively seems to be a correct application of a concept really is indicative of what is objectively the case?

    "It may be that our only good answer to this question reports a conscious response that arises in considering the claim. According to the version of evidentialism that we are applying, SE, this response can be put succinctly: it seems so" (p. 30, emphasis added).

    His answer here seems to identify some distinct phenomenology associated with our "considering the claim," namely this "conscious response" that arises. And similar-sounding things are said earlier in the essay. If this is the right interpretation of what he's saying here, then I don't think he would want to endorse anything like (FA1); at least, it seems pretty clear to me that whatever "conscious response" we have when considering the above claim, it's not a response involving any of the five sensory modalities (as far as I can imagine). I assume that that response has some other phenomenal character to it, namely its "seeming" so.

    So, that said, here's an alternative attempt to understand what Earl might be getting at. Earlier in the above article, Earl seems to me to come pretty close to identifying something like self-evidence. But notice his language and the fact that he avoids explicitly doing so (emphasis added):

    "Call this [i.e., the view being discussed] 'seeming evidentialism' (SE). What seem true are propositions. They seem true in virtue of the fact that we are spontaneously inclined to regard something of which we are aware as indicative of their truth . . . What primarily strike us as indicating [their] truth are conscious qualities, memories, and conceptual connections" (p. 15).

    It seems to me that Earl skirts right around "self-evidence" here by instead pointing to these other things (beyond the propositions themselves or the mere "adequate understanding" of them) in virtue of which such propositions are evident. Conscious qualities (which, again, seems to me to indicate some non-five-sensory phenomenology) encountered upon entertaining the propositions, noticed conceptual connections, etc., seem to be the evidence that we receive and take to be indicative of the propositions' truth. But the evidence is not (perhaps) somehow the propositions themselves, or the mere adequate understanding of them -- it's this "extra" stuff. I wonder if something like that distinction is what Earl has in mind when he expresses his skepticism about self-evident propositions? Maybe he just thinks, for example, that what evidences such propositions is not the propositions themselves (the "self" in "self-evident") or the understanding of them, but rather this additional phenomenal stuff (and maybe he thinks that the notion of a "self-evident proposition" excludes the possibility of this "stuff" beyond the proposition doing the evidencing); and, further, maybe he wonders if its not at least possibly the case that entertaining any proposition could produce such phenomenal "stuff" in us as a response, so that there is no special class of self-evident propositions.

    Of course, I could be way off. But this seems at least to be one way of making the comments in "First Things First" cohere with skepticism about self-evident propositions (if indeed his skepticism was limited to that in the first place). We could always ask him for more information. :)

    By Blogger Jason Rogers, at 11/03/2006 12:49 AM  

  • Jason,

    1. My interp is that he denies the phenomenology. Otherwise, I don't know how to make sense of his statements that he doesn't find any when he introspects.

    2. I agree that he seems to affirm it in other areas which puzzles me. I think I quoted from a forthcoming paper where he does.
    At any rate, in a forthcoming paper they endorse something that sounds just like non-doxastic seemings, yet in a section called "non-doxastic seemeings" they say they don't. I'm really looking forward to seeing the resolution. Perhaps it's terminological or perhaps he interps the seeming not as phenomenological (which would be a wierd use of words) but as merely a "pull". This could be *conscious* without there being any sensuous qualia. Desires might be like this, so maybe some cognitive states are as well.

    3. I hope your interp is correct. In part because it expresses the

    Fortuneately, I think we can count on this mystery being solved in time.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 11/03/2006 9:10 AM  

  • Trent,

    You're right to point out that you quoted from a forthcoming article where similar language is used. The only reason I really thought adding additional quotes might be helpful is that these quotes are from an article where only Earl has input (if that's really at all significant).

    Regarding your point (2): I'm not sure that I can make sense of a conscious "pull" that has no sensuous qualia, unless by "sensuous" you mean having-to-do-with-the-five-sensory-modalities. It seems to me that, when I consider such "pulls" (if indeed I succeed in doing so), there is definitely a distinctive "what it's like" to experience them, which I would normally say is something phenomenal or sensuous (I might use the terms interchangeably). But maybe this is precisely your point (or maybe not). (I'd say the same thing about the desires you mention.)

    Also, something happened to your point (3); it's not all there, at least on my screen. :-\

    By Blogger Jason Rogers, at 11/03/2006 12:34 PM  

  • Jason,

    You read me aright, I think, in that I want to reserve "sensuous" for describing the phenomenal charachter associated with experiences produced by the five canonical senses.

    My hypothesis is that the non-sensuous phenomenal charachter of a priori ituition is something that we and Earl are describing differently. Or that he just doesn't believe there is any such thing, or that he thinks phenomenal conservatives are claiming there is.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 11/03/2006 1:35 PM