You can read my full dissertation “Experiential Consciousness: Rationalism about the Value and Content of Experience” here. If that seems a little much of a good thing, this is an abstract:
“Experiential Consciousness: Rationalism about the Value and Content of Experience”
Does perceptual experience represent? A positive answer to this question provides a satisfying account of several intuitive features of perception, including the way in perception objects look (“red”, for example) and the way perception rationally informs belief (by providing corresponding perceptual contents).
But critics have argued that representationalim has been given insufficient systematic motivation, and is often adopted by default. In particular, while it can seem prima facie tempting to assimilate perception to intentional doxastic representation, such an analogy is far from innocent, and risks (i) underplaying the sui generis character of experience; (ii) failing to attach appropriate significance to experience’s phenomenal character; and (iii) reversing various types of explanatory priority of experience over doxastic attitudes.
My dissertation provides representationalism with a novel systematic motivation and a new angle on its explanatory benefits.
On the view I develop, a representational view of experience can be grounded in a type of rationalism about the subject of experience. On this rationalist account, thinking subjects enjoy conscious visual experience in a distinctive way. Specifically, the character of rational conscious life is constituted partly by a form of non-introspective self-awareness. For a subject S to enjoy a conscious experience E is partly for S to be self-aware of enjoying E. In my terms, for rational subjects perception takes the form of a type of “experiential self-consciousness.” I argue that “experiential self-consciousness” grounds a compelling representationalist account of various epistemically and phenomenally significant aspects of experience.
Epistemically, experiential self-consciousness provides a novel account of perceptual knowledge. In enjoying a perceptual experience, a rational subject is self-aware of enjoying the sort of experience in which her environment is perceptually presented to her for knowledge. That is: the subject is self-aware of being perceptually presented with certain environmental facts, i.e. objects of knowledge. Perceptual representation captures this idea.
Phenomenally, experiential self-consciousness aligns perceptual representation with the unity of conscious of experience. On the understanding I develop, the unity of experiential consciousness just is the subject’s self-awareness of a certain unity. In the specific case of perceptual experience, this unity is constituted by the subject’s self-awareness of being consciously provided with an opportunity for knowledge. Again, perceptual representation captures this idea. The type of self-consciously constituted unity that characterizes experience is distinctive of the unity of thought-contents, viz. the unity the binds together the various elements of the proposition. The unity of experience is accordingly an expression of a representational link between thought and experience.
In sum, I argue that perceptual representation is not a notion primarily supported by certain specific explanatory benefits. Instead, it is the centerpiece of a more systematic and fundamental approach to the relation between conscious experience and the nature of thought. Perceptual representation explicates that systematic connection.