The argument from fineness of grain is probably the most discussed argument for nonconceptualism. (To name but a few discussants: Peacocke 1998, 2001a, 2001b; McDowell 1994, 1998, Brewer 1999, 2005, Tye 2005, Coliva 2003, Kelly 2001a, 2001b, Veillet 2014.) To account for the fine-grained phenomenal character of visual experience in terms of the concepts of the perceiver, conceptualists appeal to demonstrative concepts. So even though a subject doesn’t possess the general concept teal, say, or even the concept shade, she will be able to perceptually represent a teal dress. Two subjects who possess different concepts for the shade of the dress, for instance teal and blue-green (or this color and this shade) can still have visual experiences of the dress with the same content: this is thus. This conceptualist strategy, of capturing the fine-grained content of experience with the help of bare demonstrative concepts, can be called the ‘pure demonstrative strategy’.
I believe that this is the best strategy available to the conceptualist to counter the argument from fineness of grain. As Brewer (2005) argues, we can say that the demonstrative involved in the subject’s experience determinately picks out certain properties – for example the shade of the dress rather than its shape – because the subject can track this property and focus her attention on it. There is an attentional and tracking relation that underlies the demonstration to the shade and fixes the corresponding perceptual content. I believe that even in cases of misperception this attentional and tracking relation can help to provide a determinate perceptual content. Imagine that I am looking at a yellow dress, but to me the dress looks to be teal, where the content of my experience is this is thus. In such a case, the conceptualist might insist that the reference of the demonstrative thus involved in this purely demonstrative experience is to the shade that this demonstrative concept would track under normal conditions.
But there is a further problem lurking here, which is not about reference or determinate content, but about the phenomenology of misperception. Compare a veridical experience with a case of hallucination. In one situation, I see a teal dress lying before me; in the other I’m in a pitch-black room, but hallucinate that there is a teal dress lying in front of me. Now in the veridical situation, the conceptualist can give a very appealing account of the phenomenal character of my visual experience. She can say that I attend to the teal dress and it is the teal of the dress itself that constitutes the feel of my experience (and the shape of the dress etc.). When I hallucinate the teal dress, however, there is no teal dress present that could be the basis of my teal phenomenology. Moreover, the teal of the dress that my demonstrative that would track under normal circumstances doesn’t help. In the hallucination case, I’m in complete darkness, and the conceptualist can’t say that the teal that my demonstrative would normally track is present somehow to provide the phenomenal character. Or if she does so, it looks like she introduces a level of nonconceptual content after all. For it is then some uninstantiated property, not a concept, that constitutes the phenomenal content of the experience.
Alternatively, the conceptualist might insist that it is the modes of presentation of our pure demonstrative concepts that give rise to the phenomenal character of experience (cf. Brewer 1999, 156). Since the same demonstrative thus is involved in veridical perception and in hallucination, it can be insisted that they thereby have the same content and phenomenal character.
Here is just one problem with this strategy – it conflicts with the transparency of perceptual experience. When looking at the teal dress, it doesn’t strike me as thought it is a mode of presentation, a feature of my experience itself, that provides the teal-y feel. Rather, when I focus on my experience of the teal dress, it is the dress itself whose particular shade provides the phenomenal character of my visual experience.
Another option for the conceptualist would be to endorse direct realism / metaphysical disjunctivism (cf. Martin 2004/2009). There is a version of this view on which veridical perceptions and corresponding indiscriminable hallucinations don’t have the same phenomenal character. The subject just mistakenly thinks that they have the same phenomenology – she is unable to distinguish them. The phenomenal character of veridical perception is constituted by the objects and properties to which it relates the perceiver; since in hallucination, this relation is lacking, it doesn’t have the same phenomenal character. This move, however, is incompatible with the conceptualist claim that veridical perception and hallucination have the same conceptual content or, otherwise put, are identical appearances that the world is a certain way.
So, to do justice to the phenomenology of hallucination, the conceptualist has to abandon the view that perceptual content is conceptual – either in favor of nonconceptualism or in favor of direct realism, thereby rejecting the content view altogether. (Notably, this was done by Brewer 2006.)
Brewer, B. (1999), Perception and Reason, Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Brewer, B. (2005), ‘Perceptual Experience has Conceptual Content’, in M. Steup & E. Sosa, eds, Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, Blackwell, Malden, pp. 217–230.
Brewer, B. (2006), ‘Perception and Content’, European Journal of Philosophy 14, 165–181.
Coliva, A. (2003), ‘The Argument from the Finer-Grained Content of Colour Experiences: A Redefinition of Its Role Within the Debate Between McDowell and Non-Conceptual Theorists’, Dialectica 57, 57–70.
Kelly, S. (2001a), ‘Demonstrative Concepts and Experience’, Philosophical Review 110, 397–420.
Kelly, S. (2001b), ‘The Non-Conceptual Content of Perceptual Experience: Situation Dependence and Fineness of Grain’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62, 601–608.
Martin, M. (2004/2009), ‘The Limits of Self-Awareness’, in A. Byrne & H. Logue, eds, Disjunctivism: Contemporary Readings, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 271–317.
McDowell, J. (1994a), Mind and World, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
McDowell, J. (1998), ‘Reply to Commentators’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 58, 403–431.
Peacocke, C. (1998), ‘Nonconceptual Content Defended’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 58, 381–388.
Peacocke, C. (2001a), ‘Does Perception Have a Nonconceptual Content?’, Journal of Philosophy 98, 239–264.
Peacocke, C. (2001b), ‘Phenomenology and Nonconceptual Content’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62, 609–615.
Tye, M. (2005), ‘On the Nonconceptual Content of Experience’, in M. Reicher & J. Marek, eds, Experience and Analysis: Proceedings of the 27th International Wittgenstein Symposium, öbv&hpt, Vienna, 221–242.
Veillet, B. (2014), ‘Belief, Re-Identification and Fineness of Grain’, European Journal of Philosophy 22, 229–248.