Cognitive Phenomenology

(cross-posted at Brains)

Via David Rosenthal-

There was a conference entitled “Theory Of Consciousness In Analytic Phenomenology And Philosophy Of Mind,”

at the University of Bern, Switzerland, May 27-29, 2009.

Podcasts of the talks are, for the next 2-3 years, at

Talks are by David M. Rosenthal, Gianfranco Soldati, Andrea Borsato, David Woodruff Smith, Eduard Marbach, Sebastian Leugger, Dan Zahavi, Uriah Kriegel, Michelle Montague, and Galen Strawson.

The program is at

I only listened to David R, Uriah, and Galen’s talks and the sound quality is a little uneven, but there is a lot of interesting stuff here…well worth the listen….

This is something that I am very glad to see. I am definitely one of those who thinks that cognitive phenomenology is real (and I think David Rosenthal is committed to it so it was interesting to hear him at this conference) though I don’t think that my view is the standard one. I, like Strawson, want to distinguish between the traditional kind of externalist content (though I, like Devitt, also allow inferential content) and the cognitive phenomenology. I take the cognitive phenomenology to go with the mental attitude that we take towards the traditional content. Let’s take belief, desire, and intention. These are the basic kinds of cognitive mental attitudes (whether there are more or if all other reduce to combinations of these three is a contentious issue…I take no stand on that here). Each one of these is really the name for a family of mental attitudes. So for belief we have a range between complete skepticism to mild doubt to probably true to complete certitude. What these have in common is a subjective sense of confidence as to whether something is actually true. To believe that p is to be subjectively certain that p is true, or to be convinced that p is true. Likewise, to doubt that p is to be subjectively uncertain that p is true. Likewise to want something is to have a subjective longing for it and to have an intention to A is to feel subjectively resolved to do A.

This explains all of the relevant data; for instance one main line of evidence for cognitive phenomenology is the experience that one has when one understands a sentence in a language one speaks. I agree that there is something that it is like for the person who understands a sentence of English but I claim that this is the result of the person coming to have some conscious mental attitude held towards the traditional content. So, when Galen tells me that the Earth weighs four times more than the Moon, I might feel surprise and wonder whether that were really true. Of course one might just ‘entertain’ the content but even here one take a qualitatively neutral mental attitude towards the content. This also allows us to explain why it is so many people dismiss cognitive phenomenology. Since my belief that 2+2=4 and my belief that New York City is on the East Coast of the United States of America are both things that I take to be beyond dispute they will feel subjectively similar when I introspect. Since I am looking for a phenomenological difference between the two thoughts I overlook their similarity. Interestingly this is supported by the reports of some schizophrenics who say that they can distinguish their delusional beliefs from their ‘normal’ ones by how they feel.

What then are we to say about unconscious beliefs, desires, and intentions? My claim is that conscious beliefs are just are the beliefs which we are conscious of ourselves as having and so is a higher-order view about consciousness. To have a conscious belief that p if just for one to have a higher-order state to the effect that one believes p. One feels subjectively certain about P just because one is conscious of oneself as believing P. When the belief is unconscious I have the same mental attitude held towards the traditional content but I am no longer conscious of myself as believing it and so there is nothing that it is like for me to believe it. I think that we can at this point give a homomorphism account of the mental attitudes. The mental attitudes come in families and there will be similarities and differences between these families that preserve the similarities and differences between the illocutionary forces of utterances used to express the mental attitude+traditional content…but that is another story….

The Envelope Please

As you no doubt probably already know the results of the philpapers survey are out. These results were especially costly to me as I lost a bet on how many philosophers would self-identify as dualists. I bet Dave $100.00 that it would be less than 10% and it actually turned out to be something like 27%! One nice feature of the results is that you can sort them by rank and AOS. Turns out the only category where I got it right was among people who explicitly identify Philosophy of Cognitive Science as their AOS…coincidentally these are just the people that I usually associate with…I wonder if other people who took the meta-survey noticed that their meta-survey guesses reflected the numbers filtered for their AOS/friends in philosophy?

The Logical Problem of Omniscience

The problem of omniscience is usually formulated about whether human being’s having free will is compatible with God’s foreknowledge of our actions. The basic problem is that God know what we will do before we do it which means that it must be true that we perform this action before we actually perform it (knowledge is factive). But if it is already true then how could I do otherwise? If I do in fact have freedom and do otherwise then it seems that I have the power to cause one of God’s beliefs to be false; but that is impossible. God is essentially omniscient and so only has true beliefs. Plantinga famously responded that we can solve this problem by thinking about possible world semantics. Let us suppose that in the actual world I freely choose to drink a Lemon iced tea instead of a peach iced tea on Friday December 11th 2009 at 1145 a.m. Let’s call this T2. Given God’s omniscience then we must suppose that He knew that would perform this action even before my birth. Let’s just pick a date, say October 31st 2008, and call this T1. Then God knows at T1 that I will choose lemon tea at T2. Now the reason Plantinga sees no problem here is because there is a possible world where I freely chose to have the peach tea (call it W2)  and in that possible world God knows that I will choose peach tea at T2. So the basic idea is that had I chosen differently God would have a different belief and so we could say that the true belief that God does hold in the actual world would be false in W2 but that doesn’t mean that God has a false belief in the actual world. So, I am free (i.e. there is a possible world where I do otherwise and so it is not necessary that I have lemon tea) and God is still omniscient. Pike’s response to this argument is basically to complain about Plantinga’s analysis of freedom. The question is not whether or not there is some possible world or other where I do otherwise and God knows that I do otherwise. The question is whether or not given the actual world as it is, is there a possible world with exactly the same history as the actual world in which I do otherwise? If there is then God has a false belief in that world because in that world God believes at T1 that I will have lemon tea at T2 but we have just said that in this world I have peach tea at T2. On the other hand if there is no such possible world then it was not really in my power to do otherwise after all. To appreciate the point that Pike is making here we can point out that even the determinist can admit that there is a possible world where I “chose” to have peach tea at T2. It is, of course, not in the subset of possible worlds that have the same history as our world (or our universe for that matter) but surely we can conceive of different subsets with different histories (e.g. possible worlds where the initial force of the big bang is different or in which there is an extra molecule, ungrounded in Kripke’s sense, that effects the outcome of the universe’s history) and so there merely being some other possible world where I have peach tea instead of lemon tea at T2 cannot be what we mean when we say that I am free. We must mean that there is a possible world that is near enough in the space of possible worlds to the actual world such that I could bring it about. And as we have seen it is not obvious that this is possible since in all the possible worlds that are near enough God knows that I will have lemon tea. I find this response very convincing (and I now think that my earlier attempts at this were groping in this direction)

So much then for the traditional problem of omniscience. However, it occurred to me recently that there is, besides this traditional problem, a further problem which we might call ‘the logical problem of omniscience’ on analogy with the logical problem of evil. The logical problem of omniscience suggests that there is a contradiction in the claim that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, morally perfect and has free will. This is a more pressing problem because it threatens to show that belief in an omniscient God with free will is itself an irrational belief. The contradiction arises because included in God’s foreknowledge is knowledge of what His own choices and actions will be. So if God chooses to destroy  Sodom at noon on Wednesday 1400 B.C (*Note: This is a made up arbitrary date!*) then it must have been the case the He knew that He would so choose and so knew that He would destroy Sodom at that time on that date. But if God knew this at T0 (say before he created Adam) then how could He have chosen differently in 1400 B.C.? But then either God is not omniscient or he does not have free will neither of which is acceptable.

4th Annual Felician Ethics Conference

I have presented at two of these conferences and each time it has been a fun and rewarding experience. I strongly encourage people to submit something!

The fourth annual meeting of the Felician Ethics Conference will be held at the Rutherford campus of Felician College on Saturday, April 24, 2010, from 9 am – 6 pm. (Felician’s Rutherford campus is located at 223 Montross Ave., Rutherford NJ, 07070.)

The plenary speaker is Christopher Morris (University of Maryland, College Park), speaking on the topic, “Why Be Just?”

Submissions on any topic in moral philosophy (broadly construed) are welcome, not exceeding 25 minutes’ presentation time (approximately 3,000 words). Please send submissions via email in format suitable for blind review by Feb. 1, 2010

Alternatively, send surface mail to:

Irfan Khawaja, Conference Coordinator

Dept. of Philosophy

Felician College

262 S. Main St.

Lodi, NJ 07644

Undergraduate submissions are invited for a proposed session consisting of undergraduate papers.

If you have any questions, or would be interested in serving as a commentator and/or chair for individual sessions, please contact Irfan Khawaja, (201) 559-6000 (x6288),

Music & Language

Though I have never studied the philosophy of music I know that one of the central problems therein is how music is related to emotions. Many people have the feeling that, say, the minor key is sad and the major key is happy. How do we explain this? I have long thought that people use music to express emotion in something like the way people use language to express emotions. In the philosophy of language we distinguish between the illocutionary force of an utterance and the semantic content of the utterance. So, I can say “I would watch the new CW show Fly Girls if I were you” as a threat, as advice, a joke, an insult, or simply as a report about my own mental states. Here we have a case of the same semantic content with different illocutionary forces. A large part of successfully performing an illocutionary act (and so achieving perlocutionary success) relies on the tone of voice that one uses in uttering the semantic content. So, I always thought that music worked like the tone of voice without the semantic content. This interesting study provides some empirical data which might support this interpretation. I wonder if this kind of broadly Gricean view about music has been advocated by anyone who does philosophy of music?