It’s my pleasure to introduce our next Ergo symposium, featuring Christoph Hoerl’s “Experience and Time: Transparency and Presence” with commentaries by Elliot Carter (University of Toronto) Geoffrey Lee (University of California, Berkeley), Louise Richardson (University of York). I’d like to thank each of the participants for their great work!
The objects of perceptual experience seem ‘present’ to subjects in two ways: they seem actually to exist directly before the subject’s mind (‘experiential presence’) and they seem to exist now (‘temporal presence’). Hoerl takes these features of perceptual experience to be ‘intimately connected’, and his paper makes a start at explaining what that connection is. His approach is to examine two debates in which the relationship between experiential and temporal presence plays a central role: a debate in the philosophy of mind about the ‘transparency’ of temporal properties of experience; and a debate in the metaphysics of time about whether the present moment is objectively special. In each case, Hoerl argues that theorists have courted incoherence, because they have failed to fully grasp how perceptual experiences lack temporal viewpoint. Thus, grasp of the relation between experiential and temporal presence requires grasp of the temporal nonviewpointedness of perceptual experience.
The first context in which the relation between experiential and temporal presence arises is in discussions of the sense in which the temporal properties of perceptual experience are ‘transparent’ to introspection (§1). According to a standard version of the ‘transparency’ thesis, when one attempts to introspect the properties of one’s perceptual experience, one can attend only to properties of experienced objects and events. Applied to temporal properties of experience, the standard version implies that one can introspectively attend to the temporal properties of an experienced event, but not to the temporal properties of one’s experience of the event. However, partly in an effort to accommodate the intimate connection between experiential presence and temporal presence, some philosophers who are otherwise sympathetic to the general transparency intuition argue that we must formulate the transparency thesis differently for temporal properties than we do for other properties of experience. For example, Phillips and Soteriou maintain that, although the temporal properties of one’s experience cannot be distinguished introspectively from the apparent temporal properties of the perceptually experienced event, nonetheless in attending to the apparent temporal properties of the latter, one can also attend directly to the former. Given that, on their view, the temporal properties of the experience can be directly introspected, this means we must modify the transparency thesis in their case to reflect this fact.
According to Hoerl, however, Phillips’ and Soteriou’s attempts to formulate transparency differently for temporal properties of experience than for other experiential properties turn out not to be fully coherent, in that they both affirm and deny temporal transparency at once (pp 133-5). As Hoerl notes in §2, this is similar to a problem that is widely thought to plague ‘A-theories’ of time, which—similar to the authors we’ve just discussed—are also motivated to accommodate the special way in which temporally present events figure phenomenologically in perceptual experience. The basic problem that confronts A-theorists is that they claim both that present events are objectively unique (in being temporally present) and also that they are not unique (since, as time passes, other events acquire the same property) (p. 136). Thus, two positions, each aimed at accommodating the intimate connection between experiential and temporal presence, seem both to end in self-contradiction.
According to Hoerl, the source of paradox in each of these discussions is the same: failure to fully grasp the temporal nonviewpointedness of perceptual experience. As Hoerl argues in §3, Phillips and Soteriou mistake a purely negative feature of perceptual experience—i.e., its lack of temporal viewpoint—for a structural feature of perceptual experience analogous to one’s visuospatial perspective on an object. This leads them to characterize experience’s temporal properties as peculiarly perspectival (insofar as the analogy with visuspatial perspective is emphasized) and non-perspectival (insofar as there is no phenomenological distinction within perceptual experience between the time of an event and the time ‘from which’ one experiences the event). Temporal nonviewpointedness also explains the intuitive attraction of the A-theory, and its paradoxical character. For, A-theorists correctly emphasize that which events one perceptually experiences as occurring is not experienced as depending on one’s temporal perspective on the event, such as the time of the experience. The felt lack of temporal perspective in one’s experience of events leads the A-theorist to seek a non-perspectival explanation of this aspect of perceptual phenomenology in terms of which events are objectively present, and it’s at this point that the familiar challenges to their position get a grip.
You can find the target article, commentaries, and Hoerl’s response below.
Christoph Hoerl “Experience and Time: Presence and Transparency”
Geoffrey Lee: Commentary on Hoerl: Transparency and Presence
Louise Richardson: Commentary on ‘Experience and Time: Transparency and Presence’