In a recent post, I noticed that the debate over representationalism about consciousness is often conducted by discussing putative counterexamples, i.e., experiences that some philosophers find to be intuitively different even though according to some representationalist theories, they have the same representational content. These examples are usually met by representationalists who offer ways in which the different experiences differ in their representational content.
At the end of the post I asked, how fruitful is this enterprise? (And in his comment to my post, Pete Mandik echoed my question.)
Bill Lycan is one participant in this enterprise. He noticed my post and was kind enough to write me as follows (excerpts reproduced with permission):
In the matter of fruitfulness, I’d say generating 8 interstingly different
responses is pretty fruitful.
My view of such examples (Peacocke, Macpherson, et al. as well as Nickel)
is that they can’t ever be *clear counterexamples* to any interesting
thesis, because the aspect-perception and attentional phenomena are already
so weird and paradoxical in their own right; no one has said anything
uncontroversial about them in the first place. But that makes them all the
more fruitful to talk about.
What I take from Lycan’s response is that there is at least one class of putative counterexamples that are too controversial to show anything definitive about representationalism. But my worry is more general than that. As I wrote in a subsequent post, I worry that that the whole debate is insufficiently constrained, and as a result, it’s unclear what needs to be done to score points within it. In response to this, Lycan had the following to say:
Yes. It’s a legitimate worry. (1) I’ve always assumed as a ground rule (I
said this in more detail in _C&Exp_) that if the R.’ist can say something
plausible about what the mental state in q. represents, then R.’ism is
unrefuted (though of course the objector may in fact be right). (2) It
helps if the R.’ist story is backed by “function-to-indicate”
considerations; e.g., it’s fairly obvious that pain has inter alia the
function of indicating damage to tissue. (3) It further helps if the state
gives rise to impressions and appearances having conceptual content; e.g.,
pain locates or is located on your body map, so that a particular pain is
in your leg and not in your finger. Finally, (4) there may be actual
specific arguments, such as I gave in _C&Exp_ for the case of smell.
Lycan’s responses make me want to read more of this literature, including his book Consciousness and Experience.
Meanwhile, does anyone have thoughts on whether Lycan’s rules are reasonably neutral? Are they enough to make the debate fruitful?