Dispatches from the Ivory Tower

In celebration of my ten years in the blogosphere I have been compiling some of my past posts into thematic meta-posts. The first of these listed my posts on the higher-order thought theory of consciousness. Continuing in this theme below are links to posts I have done over the past ten years reporting on talks/conferences/classes I have attended. I wrote these mostly so that I would not forget about these sessions but they may be interesting to others as well. Sadly, there are several things I have been to in the last year or so that I have not had the tim to sit down and write about…ah well maybe some day!

  1. 09/05/07 Kripke
    • Notes on Kripke’s discussion of existence as a predicate and fiction
  2. 09/05/2007 Devitt
  3. 09/05 Devitt II
  4. 09/19/07 -Devitt on Meaning
    • Notes on Devitt’s class on semantics
  5. Flamming LIPS!
  6. Back to the Grind & Meta-Metaethics
  7. Day Two of the Yale/UConn Conference
  8. Peter Singer on Climate Change and Ethics
    • Notes on Singer’s talk at LaGuardia
  9. Where Am I?
    • Reflections on my talk at the American Philosophical Association talk in 2008
  10. Fodor on Natural Selection
    • Reflections on the Society of Philosophy and Psychology meeting June 2008
  11. Kripke’s Argument Against 4-Dimensionalism
    • Based on a class given at the Graduate Center
  12. Reflections on Zoombies and Shombies Or: After the Showdown at the APA
    • Reflections on my session at the American Philosophical Association in 2009
  13. Kripke on the Structure of Possible Worlds
    • Notes on a talk given at the Graduate Center in September 2009
  14. Unconscious Trait Inferences
    • Notes on social psychologist James Uleman‘s talk at the CUNY Cogsci Speaker Series September 2009
  15. Attributing Mental States
    • Notes on James Dow‘s talk at the CUNY Cogsci Speaker Series September 2009
  16. Busy Bees Busily Buzzing ‘Bout
  17. Shombies & Illuminati
  18. A Couple More Thoughts on Shombies and Illuminati
    • Some reflections after Kati Balog’s presentation at the NYU philosophy of mind discussion group in November 2009
  19. Attention and Mental Paint
    • Notes on Ned Block’s session at the Mind and Language Seminar in January 2010
  20. HOT Damn it’s a HO Down-Showdown
    • Notes on David Rosenthal’s session at the NYU Mind and Language Seminar in March 2010
  21. The Identity Theory in 2-D
    • Some thoughts in response to theOnline Consciousness Conference in February 2010
  22. Part-Time Zombies
    • Reflections on Michael Pauen‘s Cogsci talk at CUNY in March of 2010
  23. The Singularity, Again
    • Reflections on David Chalmers’ at the NYU Mind and Language seminar in April of 2010
  24. The New New Dualism
  25. Dream a Little Dream
    • Reflections on Miguel Angel Sebastian’s cogsci talk in July of 2010
  26. Explaining Consciousness & Its Consequences
    • Reflections on my talk at the CUNY Cog Sci Speaker Series August 2010
  27. Levine on the Phenomenology of Thought
    • Reflections on Levine’s talk at the Graduate Center in September 2010
  28. Swamp Thing About Mary
    • Reflections on Pete Mandik’s Cogsci talk at CUNY in October 2010
  29. Burge on the Origins of Perception
    • Reflections on a workshop on the predicative structure of experience sponsored by the New York Consciousness Project in October of 2010
  30. Phenomenally HOT
    • Reflections on the first session of Ned Block and David Carmel’s seminar on Conceptual and Empirical Issues about Perception, Attention and Consciousness at NYU January 2011
  31. Some Thoughts About Color
  32. Stazicker on Attention and Mental Paint
  33. Sid Kouider on Partial Awareness
    • a few notes about Sid Kouider’s recent presentation at the CUNY CogSci Colloquium in October 2011
  34. The 2D Argument Against Non-Materialism
    • Reflections on my Tucson Talk in April 2012
  35. Peter Godfrey-Smith on Evolution And Memory
    • Notes from the CUNY Cog Sci Speaker Series in September 2012
  36. The Nature of Phenomenal Consciousness
    • Reflections on my talk at the Graduate Center in September 2012
  37. Giulio Tononi on Consciousness as Integrated Information
    • Notes from the inaugural lecture of the new NYU Center for Mind and Brain by Giulio Tononi
  38. Mental Qualities 02/07/13: Cognitive Phenomenology
  39. Mental Qualities 02/21/13: Phenomenal Concepts
    • Notes/Reflections from David Rosenthal’s class in 2013
  40. The Geometrical Structure of Space and Time
    • Reflections on a session of Tim Maudlin’s course I sat in on in February 2014
  41. Towards some Reflections on the Tucson Conferences
    • Reflections on my presentations at the Tucson conferences
  42. Existentialism is a Transhumanism
    • Reflections on the NEH Seminar in Transhumanism and Technohumanism at LaGuardia I co-directed in 2015-2016
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Mental Qualities 02/21/13: Phenomenal Concepts

Like I don’t have enough going on over at this year’s Online Consciousness Conference (which is still in session until Friday March 1st) I have been sitting in on David Rosenthal’s class at the Graduate Center on Mental Qualities (previous post here). Today he presented an argument against phenomenal concepts that was very interesting.

The argument began with pointing out that our normal concept of pain is one that we are able to apply to other people. It then proceeds to point out that a phenomenal concept is such that it can only be applied in one’s own case. The challenge then, according to Rosenthal, is to give an account of how it is (or how it is even possible) that these two concepts (one public and the other private) line up. I take this to mean the following. How can we explain how the extension of these concepts come out to be the same (viz pains). So, for instance, when I see you moaning and groaning with a visible injury I am likely to say ‘you are in pain’. When I do so I must be employing the public concept of pain (the other one applies only in my own case).

It is certainly the case that those who like phenomenal concepts allow their referents to come apart. Chalmers, for instance, argues that the public language concept has its reference fixed in a relational way. It will refer to whatever it is that is the typical cause of painful experiences. Whereas the phenomenal concept (the ‘pure’ one to use Chalmers’ terminology) does not have its reference fixed in this relational way, but rather picks out the conscious experience by its intrinsic nature or essence (that it is painful for me). So, if we consider a ‘pain invert’ -someone who experiences pleasure in response to painful stimuli- then their public language concept will pick out the same things that mine does (I am not inverted). This is because the pain-invert learns the word ‘pain’ in the way we all do and she will apply it to stabbings, burnings, etc. However the pain-invert’s phenomenal concept picks out the pleasure as the kind of conscious experience that it is. So when they think “I am having *this* kind of experience” they single out and refer to a pleasurable experience, whereas when I do so I single out and refer to a painful one. So in this kind of case the referents of the two concepts come apart.

So is there a problem about extension here? It is true that when I attribute painful experience to you I think that I am attributing an experience to you which is like the one that I have when I pick out my pain via a phenomenal concept but what could possibly guarantee this? Especially in light if the invert cases. I suggested that at this point those who like phenomenal concepts ought to appeal to the dancing and fading qualia arguments (though in light of Dave’s recent backing off of the dancing qualia argument maybe we should focus on the fading qualia one). Those arguments aim to show that it is highly implausible that you and I are inverts with respect to our conscious experience (even though it is logically possible the argument tries to suggest that it is not nomologically possible). The reason why it is highly implausible is that it would entail that I am radically out of touch with my conscious experience and we have good reason to think this is not the case (for some discussion of this see here). If those arguments work then we can be reasonably confident that your phenomenal pain concept picks out a conscious experience which is like the one that I pick out with my phenomenal pain concept. So when I use the public language concept I am attributing to you a property which is typically caused in a certain way (stabbing, burning, etc) and I can identify this property in my own experience via a phenomenal concept. So I take myself to be attributing to you the same kind of property which is caused in those ways in my experience (and which I single out via a phenomenal concept). My belief that these kinds of properties are similar in the way I think they are is licensed by reflection on dancing and fading qualia.

Ok, now off to the conference!